The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
Doubleday, June 2019
544 pages / Amazon
We don’t tell our families everything. If we’re being honest, we don’t tell anyone everything. The big things, sure. But every little hope, dream, regret, tiny moment, feeling? No. We store those inside of ourselves. The Most Fun We Ever Had is a time capsule on how this affects one family through decades. We meet the family: Marilyn and David Sorenson (mom and dad), and four daughters (Wendy, Violet, Liza, Grace) at a wedding in 2000. The novel takes us through each of their perspectives, reaching back to 1970 and moving all the way to 2017.
Similar to the way bestseller, The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah spans decades and families, beautifully highlighting the way events are connected, The Most Fun We Ever Had successfully does the same. The narrative travels through time looking at how each character has experienced loss, pain, happiness, and simply the passage of time. The chapters do not move in consecutive order, but rather flow like memory, with each event leading the respective narrators to consider and remember something that happened days, months, years ago. It is easy to understand the way that these pieces stack together to make a life and a family.
We learn how Marilyn and David met and fell in love. We follow this love through the difficulty of medical school, new parenthood loneliness, the disconnect with four children in the house, to their above-average friskiness that is a constant point of contention for their daughters. We see this love wax and wane, the way a real relationship moves through difficult and easy days. David puts it best, “This was arguably one of the life-saving rationalizations for the institution of marriage, one party consumed with worry so the other could sleep through the night.”
Wendy and Violet seem to be the driving force of the narrative, if for no other reason than their relationship introduces us to a new character—a child given away at birth by Violet 15 years earlier. This child, Jonah, a young man now in 2017, drastically affects the dynamics of the Sorenson family as they come to terms with this secret. Violet is hesitant to get to know him and unwilling to invite her new son into her shiny, perfect family. Since Wendy was the one to find him, she attempts to bring him into her lush apartment in the city.
Liza is pregnant and worried about her flailing relationship and infidelity. With a husband struggling with deep depression, she wonders if she can trust him to raise a family with her—to be happy the way that she saw her mom and dad love each other throughout her childhood.
Grace is far away—in body and spirit—living across the country with her own secrets. Representative of the true character of a youngest child perhaps, Grace is the only one who gets lost in the narrative. At one point I read her perspective for two pages before realizing who was talking, but characteristic of younger children, it seems Claire Lombardo was purposeful in doing so.
Violet has a seemingly white picket fence perfect family, but as we see her day-drinking, withdrawing from her angry husband, and eventually missing her son’s elementary school performance, it is clear that everything is not always as it seems. In small details like these, we learn the ways that each Sorenson chooses to hide their own truths from each other.
Grace echoes this habit of hiding by bold-face lying about getting into law school. She continues this charade for a year by pretending to go to class, all so that she doesn’t disappoint her parents. Grace worries incessantly about missing her family, “…Nothing had ever felt as comfortable, as easy, as good as being with her parents, her family. No one, it seemed, would ever regard her with the same enthusiastic awe as her mother; the same quiet feverish pride as her father. It aroused concern within that she was slated for a lifetime of disappointment from the outside.”
Unsurprisingly, these decisions to hide parts of themselves leave each character pushing those who love them away. Wendy pushes Jonah, the child given up for adoption, out of her life and her apartment when he gets too close. This leads him to believe his place is not secure and therefore skip town when tragedy strikes. The most sympathetic and blameless character throughout the book, Jonah shows the reader how intoxicating belonging to the Sorenson clan can be. Desperate not to be abandoned by them, he steals Wendy’s car and drives aimlessly across the country, eventually turning back to Wendy to be rescued.
Marilyn has a lunch of wine and cigarettes with Wendy, who is feeling bad for kicking Jonah out, and comforts her by stating that Wendy didn’t know what she was signing up for when she took Jonah in, that every decision has consequences when you’re raising children. “’It takes such a long time to realize that it’s worth it. …you see the little person you’ve created and she says a sentence to you and you realize that everything in your life has been an audition for the creation of that specific person. That you’re sending freestanding beings off into the world and it’s entirely on your shoulders.’”
As the reader ventures inside Marilyn and David’s path throughout the novel, we see there have been struggles throughout the years, even as they age, there are growing pains. Marilyn describes her worries, “She was suspecting all the same things that he was. Their daughters were a mess. Everything was in shambles.”
Sometimes you’re too close to something to see it for what it really is, which is what Lombardo spells out in her expansive narrative. The moral of the story is this: generations of experiences trickle down and patterns emerge, often without the clarity to see them, we all just continue on, making the same decisions as those before us.
Lombardo’s debut novel portrays a family in all of its interconnectedness, messiness, mistakes, regrets, happiness, and love—even showcasing the family dog, Loomis, which like many pets, serves as a much needed distraction from tough conversations for the family. It is rather difficult to move between decades, characters, and storylines for 400 pages and keep your reader engaged, however, not with the Sorensons. By the end of the novel, you will wonder what comes next for the sisters and their loved ones. You’ll feel a part of the family in a way you can’t even feel in your own, not as easily at least.
Cassandra Morrison received her MFA in creative non-fiction from Roosevelt University in Chicago, Illinois. She has finished a book of hybrid fiction and non-fiction that discusses Southern culture, femininity and social neuroses. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Washington Post, Midwestern Gothic, Chicago Literati, Entropy, The Establishment, and Vol 1: Brooklyn. She is from the South, gets lost frequently and is a little bit basic.