There are couples who seem as though they’ve been in love forever, to the point of appearing physically inseparable. Marilyn and David Sorenson are two such people, and their four daughters — Wendy, Violet, Liza, and Grace — are simultaneously spellbound by them and over it. Claire Lombardo’s début, “The Most Fun We Ever Had,” chronicles the life of a family over the course of a year, yet it passes as quickly as the pages turn.
The narrative alternates between flashbacks and the present, such that the former gives much-needed context to an otherwise convoluted and detail-packed story. At the age of 20, Wendy marries Miles, a man 15 years her senior who comes from old money, to escape her family and her eating disorder. Violet confronts the son she gave up for adoption 15 years ago while grappling with her growing sense of powerlessness in her role as a stay-at-home mother. Liza gets pregnant and appears to follow in Violet’s footsteps. Grace, the baby, tries to see how long she can live a lie.
And, of course, the two who started it all have their own issues to deal with: getting older, watching their daughters change, and taking in a grandson to raise after they thought their childrearing days were done.
To be sure, Lombardo’s characters exist in a world in which money is of no object or concern, conveniently available because of the marriages the four daughters have made — generally to wealthy lawyers or businessmen who seem perpetually frazzled thanks to their jobs and often find themselves in awe of the strong women with whom they chose to spend their lives. The prevalence of plot points only made possible thanks to a steady flow of cash is not so much a criticism of the novel as it is something to be aware of before reading: If problems of the rich aren’t your cup of tea, this book isn’t for you. The novel is absolutely a pleasant and enjoyable read, but is in no way “gritty.”
That said, the characters are not immune to the human condition. Despite their wealth, there is a plethora of more relatable issues: accidental pregnancies, eating disorders, cheating, stagnant communication — the list could go on. Yet these lush details almost seem to weigh the novel down. At times, it feels as though there are too many details, too many implausible things that go wrong, tied up with all-too-convenient deus ex machinas. Sure, David and Marilyn might have had four daughters — several people for whom things can go wrong — but need all of them be plagued by multiple unresolved demons? Things seem to snowball out of control, and perhaps for a reader it seems like a bit much, but Lombardo’s inclusion of all the minutiae are also true to life: This is how life actually is.
“The Most Fun We Ever Had” is certainly not boring. The flashbacks and cast of characters large enough to people a sitcom give the reader someone to root for, and one could read all 500 pages in a week like one might binge a soap opera. Lombardo’s prose drives the plot and her sentences, though tightly raveled, reveal much more about the characters than is immediately apparent. Only a few pages into the novel, and the reader already knows about Wendy’s vulnerability, characterized as “vestiges of her teenage habits appeared only fleetingly for her now — she still, on occasion, flirted with the idea of purging, and once in a while she’d try a diet that she read about in US Weekly. But she became comfortable with her body in adulthood — after her husband, after her abbreviated pregnancy — in a way that surprised her.”
Lombardo describes falling for someone as feeling “accompanied in a way she had never before, by a person who was choosing to feel beholden to her instead of simply scooting up the rope of familial obligation.” The novel shines brightest in the moments in which Lombardo is able to probe into the psyche of her female characters to express something that feels universal, yet somehow fresh.
“The Most Fun We Ever Had” is a novel about a family and follows in the footsteps of other reknown novels the chronicle the intricate complexities of close relationships. It is a stellar debut that modernizes family histories for the 21st century. If all of Lombardo’s future writing reach such a sprawl, however, we may (unfortunately) have to wait a while for her next novel.
—Staff writer Cassandra Luca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.