The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
Published by Doubleday, 2019
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
This follows three generations of the same family, looking at the various ways their lives are impacted by the unexpected return of a 15-year-old boy, previously given up for adoption as a baby.
There’s definitely some worthwhile social commentary in here. Jonah, the teenager stumbling back into the family he has never known, grew up within the care system. As such, he’s been completely deprived of the comfort and excess afforded to the wealthy Sorenson clan. The arrival of this outsider with a completely different perspective on life forces them to confront their own privilege for the first time, and it’s interesting to note the defensiveness they tend to display, as though embarrassed by – and unwilling to fully acknowledge – their own advantageous position.
It’s also true that several of the characters make cruel or insensitive jokes towards those of lower classes, and show a lack of empathy where others’ struggles are concerned; ingrained, throwaway comments that highlight the inherent obliviousness and sense of disconnect often experienced by those who have grown up surrounded by money. Whilst I certainly interpreted these moments as critique rather than endorsement from the author, I would have appreciated a little more development for this particular thread. I liked that she wasn’t afraid of showing her characters’ flaws, but she could have tackled them head on, rather than skirting around them.
Primarily, however, the book is an exploration of the established idea that money cannot buy happiness. Despite ostensibly coming across as the perfect family, we soon learn that each of them is suffering in some hidden way; the need to keep up appearances and please their seemingly saintly parents forcing them to hide the truth of their pain from each other as much as from the outside world. Through the four sisters at the heart of the novel, Lombardo does a great job of reflecting the unique hybrid of love and rivalry that can exist between siblings, and the notion that it’s the people closest to us that we’re capable of hurting the most.
The timeline shifts between the present day, and the past, starting from the first meeting of the sisters’ parents, Marilyn and David. These two timelines move ever closer, and though the structure serves to eke out the reveal of certain details, and to emphasise the various obstacles they’ve all been forced to weather (even Marilyn and David, whom their children have always regarded as the epitome of love and happiness), it does make the book feel bloated at times. At more than 500 pages, there is a feeling of diminished returns when we see the same thematic point being made time and time again. In that regard, I felt the book could have been edited down significantly, allowing key moments to hit home with more punch, rather than feeling swamped by a meandering pace and extraneous detail.
In the end, I found the book very readable, and felt it had a lot of potential in its plot points, character dynamics, and themes. It was simply too long and lacking in focus to land with the level of impact it could have had.
You can pick up a copy of The Most Fun We Ever Had from Book Depository by clicking here.
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