- The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
The title of Claire Lombardo's debut novel, The Most Fun We Ever Had (Double-day), is at once sincere, wistful, and ironic. David Sorensen, father of the four women whose tumultuous lives swirl in and out of this book, indirectly tells his wife Marilyn that she is the most fun he ever had, in the throes of a crippling heart attack. The whole family might say the same thing looking back on the girls' childhood now that they have been assaulted by the difficulties of adulthood. Lombardo is assiduous in her chronicling of these adult difficulties—a beloved husband dying young, an illicit affair that breaks up a marriage, the reappearance of a child the second-eldest daughter, Violet, had secretly birthed fifteen years earlier and given away in a closed adoption—and the behind-the-scenes angst, lies, and melodrama of that supposedly happy childhood. By the end of this gorgeous and richly wrought novel one is tempted to either tack on a question mark—The Most Fun We Ever Had?—or add a sardonic tag: The Most Fun We Ever Had—So Why Are We All So Fucked Up Now?
The sudden reappearance of Violet's now teenaged child serves Lombardo well as the engine of her complicated plot, which keeps the readers at the periphery, worrying over whether the characters, who appear and reappear in abruptly different states (consternation, glee, nausea, rage, lust, elation), are going to survive. Lombardo dexterously constructs and controls the narrative through interweaving points of view. Were it not for Jonah, the book's unlikely but endearing Christ figure who brings out the worst in Heather and the best in the other family members, it would likely spiral out of control. The novel is ambitious, covering not simply the year or so of that rejected son's return but the [End Page 176] forty years prior, with particular focus on the lustrum between the nuptials of Wendy (to whom Lombardo gives the most acerbic lines but also the most devastating back story), and that of Heather, each of the Irish-twin sisters behaving terribly during the Most Important Day of the other's life.
These two marriages, indeed none of the daughters' relationships, turn out to be what they think they'll be, even as their parents' marriage by all accounts is and forever has been ridiculously happy. David and Marilyn literally can't seem to keep their hands off each other, even forty years after she first seduces him in her father's yard, underneath what will henceforth be known as American literature's most famous ginkgo tree, and that abiding love is the ironic heartbeat pulsing through every page of this story. David's love hardly wavers over the decades. It's a miracle, he thinks, "that they hadn't divorced or murdered each other or, worse, fallen into stagnant suburban silence, dead-eyed dinners and separate beds and hostile jokes about the toilet seat. That they still made each other laugh. That they made love, in their sixties, more often than they had in their thirties. That the sight of her at the end of the day still brought him so much joy." The equally enamored but more battle-weary Marilyn, even during the one genuinely rough patch of their marriage, can't find it in her to be so enraged that she forgets her love: "How she loved him, missed him, wanted to kill him."
To their daughters, this gooey parental love becomes an albatross. "We're all emotionally stunted because you and Dad love each other more than you love us," Wendy tells her mother. "It feels like a pretty fucking insurmountable bar to reach as an adult," Daughter #3, Liza, chimes in. "We all desperately want your life. And we all know we'll never have it."
David and Marilyn are offended and baffled by these affronts ("Lord, what a thing to say," says Marilyn) and feel, accurately, that they can't catch a break—except, thankfully, from each other, and from their resiliently...