Cover image for The most fun we ever had : a novel
Title:
The most fun we ever had : a novel
ISBN:
9780385544252
Edition:
1st ed.
Physical Description:
537 pages ; 25 cm.
Geographic Term:
Summary:
When Marilyn Connolly and David Sorenson fall in love in the 1970s, they are blithely ignorant of all that's to come. By 2016, their four radically different daughters are each in a state of unrest: Wendy, widowed young, soothes herself with booze and younger men; Violet, a litigator-turned-stay-at-home-mom, battles anxiety and self-doubt when the darkest part of her past resurfaces; Liza, a neurotic and newly tenured professor, finds herself pregnant with a baby she's not sure she wants by a man she's not sure she loves; and Grace, the dawdling youngest daughter, begins living a lie that no one in her family even suspects. Above it all, the daughters share the lingering fear that they will never find a love quite like their parents'. As the novel moves through the tumultuous year following the arrival of Jonah Bendt--given up by one of the daughters in a closed adoption fifteen years before--we are shown the rich and varied tapestry of the Sorensons' past: years marred by adolescence, infidelity, and resentment, but also the transcendent moments of joy that make everything else worthwhile.
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Summary

Summary

AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

"Ambitious and brilliantly written."--Jane Smiley, The Washington Post

"Outstanding...[the] literary love child of Jonathan Franzen and Anne Tyler."-- The Guardian

"Everything about this brilliant debut cuts deep: the humor, the wisdom, the pathos. Claire Lombardo writes like she's been doing it for a hundred years, and like she's been alive for a thousand."--Rebecca Makkai, author of The Great Believers

When Marilyn Connolly and David Sorenson fall in love in the 1970s, they are blithely ignorant of all that's to come. By 2016, their four radically different daughters are each in a state of unrest: Wendy, widowed young, soothes herself with booze and younger men; Violet, a litigator-turned-stay-at-home-mom, battles anxiety and self-doubt when the darkest part of her past resurfaces; Liza, a neurotic and newly tenured professor, finds herself pregnant with a baby she's not sure she wants by a man she's not sure she loves; and Grace, the dawdling youngest daughter, begins living a lie that no one in her family even suspects. Above it all, the daughters share the lingering fear that they will never find a love quite like their parents'.

As the novel moves through the tumultuous year following the arrival of Jonah Bendt--given up by one of the daughters in a closed adoption fifteen years before--we are shown the rich and varied tapestry of the Sorensons' past: years marred by adolescence, infidelity, and resentment, but also the transcendent moments of joy that make everything else worthwhile.

Spanning nearly half a century, and set against the quintessential American backdrop of Chicago and its prospering suburbs, Lombardo's debut explores the triumphs and burdens of love, the fraught tethers of parenthood and sisterhood, and the baffling mixture of affection, abhorrence, resistance, and submission we feel for those closest to us. In painting this luminous portrait of a family's becoming, Lombardo joins the ranks of writers such as Celeste Ng, Elizabeth Strout, and Jonathan Franzen as visionary chroniclers of our modern lives.


Author Notes

CLAIRE LOMBARDO earned her MFA in fiction at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was born and raised in Oak Park, Illinois. A former social worker, she now teaches fiction writing and is at work on a second novel.


Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Lombardo's impressive debut follows the Sorenson clan-physician David, wife Marilyn, and their four daughters: Wendy, Violet, Liza, and Grace-through the 1970s to 2017. David and Marilyn raised the family in a rambling suburban Chicago house that belonged to Marilyn's father. The daughters find varying degrees of success in their professional lives but fail to find the passion and romance that their parents continue to have in their own marriage. Wendy is a wealthy widow with a foul mouth and a drinking problem. Violet is a former lawyer turned stay-at-home mother of two young sons. At 32, Liza is a tenured professor with a depressive boyfriend. The baby of the family, 20-something Grace, is the only one of the daughters to have moved away, and now lives in Oregon. The daughters' lives are in various stages of tumult: Wendy locates Jonah, the teenage son Violet gave up for adoption years prior; Violet struggles to integrate Jonah into her perfectly controlled life; Liza is shocked to discover she is pregnant; and Grace lies about being in law school after she was rejected. Lombardo captures the complexity of a large family with characters who light up the page with their competition, secrets, and worries. Despite its length and number of plotlines, the momentum never flags, making for a rich and rewarding family saga. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Kirkus Review

Four Chicago sisters anchor a sharp, sly family story of feminine guile and guilt.Newcomer Lombardo brews all seven deadly sins into a fun and brimming tale of an unapologetically bougie couple and their unruly daughters. In the opening scene, Liza Sorenson, daughter No. 3, flirts with a groomsman at her sister's wedding. "There's four of you?" he asked. "What's that like?" Her retort: "It's a vast hormonal hellscape. A marathon of instability and hair products." Thus begins a story bristling with a particular kind of female intel. When Wendy, the oldest, sets her sights on a mate, she "made sure she left her mark throughout his housesoy milk in the fridge, box of tampons under the sink, surreptitious spritzes of her Bulgari musk on the sheets." Turbulent Wendy is the novel's best character, exuding a delectable bratty-ness. The parentsMarilyn, all pluck and busy optimism, and David, a genial family doctorstrike their offspring as impossibly happy. Lombardo levels this vision by interspersing chapters of the Sorenson parents' early lean times with chapters about their daughters' wobbly forays into adulthood. The central story unfurls over a single event-choked year, begun by Wendy, who unlatches a closed adoption and springs on her family the boy her stuffy married sister, Violet, gave away 15 years earlier. (The sisters improbably kept David and Marilyn clueless with a phony study-abroad scheme.) Into this churn, Lombardo adds cancer, infidelity, a heart attack, another unplanned pregnancy, a stillbirth, and an office crush for David. Meanwhile, youngest daughter Grace perpetrates a whopper, and "every day the lie was growing like mold, furring her judgment." The writing here is silky, if occasionally overwrought. Still, the deft touchesa neighborhood fundraiser for a Little Free Library, a Twilight character as erotic touchstonedelight. The class calibrations are divine even as the utter apolitical whiteness of the Sorenson world becomes hard to fathom.Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet another pleasurable tendril of sisterly malice uncurls. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Booklist Review

When Marilyn Sorensen, a young college dropout far from her Chicago home, tells her husband's colleague that mothering her newborn is the most fun she's ever had, it's a flimsy cover for her isolated misery. Borrowing its title form Marilyn's lame line, Lombardo's debut novel accompanies the Sorensen family during a difficult year when a secret child given up for adoption years earlier reappears, causing relationships to sour and longstanding feuds to come to a head. It is also a family epic chapters taking place in the rough present of 2016 are interspersed with ones chronologically covering 30 years of family history, from when Marilyn first met her husband, David, in the mid-1970s, to the births of their four daughters and their respective teenage rebellions and adult tragedies. Though it resembles other sprawling midwestern family dramas, like Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections (2001), Lombardo's book steers clear of social critique and burrows into the drama of familial relationships. The result is an affectionate, sharp, and eminently readable exploration of the challenges of love in its many forms.--Maggie Taft Copyright 2019 Booklist


Library Journal Review

DEBUT Lombardo's first novel focuses on three generations of the Sorenson family, whose lives are upended by the arrival of Jonah. Jonah's birth and adoption were a family secret known only by Violet, his birth mother, and her older sister, Wendy. Before Jonah is plucked out of foster care and dropped into the lives of the well-off Sorensons, we meet Marilyn Connolly and David Sorenson, who fall madly in love in the 1970s and raise four daughters over several tumultuous decades. Family members each star in their own episode, which makes the book read like television drama, but the pacing of visual storytelling is missing. The characters are recognizable types; we have the ex-anorexic, slutty sister with a drinking problem; the uptight perfectionist with a torrid secret; and an unmoored millennial living in a rooftop shed in Portland, OR. And don't forget the middle sister: she's reliable and self-contained--until she isn't. The parents whose perfect marriage is not so perfect are the unifying element. Unfortunately, the author's attempt to flesh out these tropes makes the story bloated and overstuffed. VERDICT While this reviewer thinks the novel would have benefited from fewer characters and a tighter plot, readers of women's fiction and multigenerational family stories may delight in the episodic approach. [See Prepub Alert, 12/3/18.]--Pamela Mann, St. Mary's Coll. Lib., MD


Excerpts

Excerpts

The Offspring   April 15, 2000 Sixteen years earlier   Other people overwhelmed her. Strange, perhaps, for a woman who'd added four beings to the universe of her own reluctant volition, but a fact nonetheless: Marilyn rued the inconvenient presence of bod­ies, bodies beyond her control, her understanding; bodies beyond her favor. She rued them now, from her shielded spot beneath the ginkgo tree, where she was hiding from her guests. She'd always had that knack for entertaining, but it drained her, fully, time and time again, decades of her father's wealthy clients and her husband's humorless colleagues; of her children's temperamental friends; of her transitory neighbors and ever-shifting roster of customers. And yet, today: a hundred-odd near strangers in her backyard, humans in motion, staying in motion, formally clad; tipsy celebrants of the union of her eldest daughter, Wendy, people who were her responsibility for this evening, when she already had so much on her plate--not literally, for she'd neglected to take advantage of the farm-fresh menu spread over three extra-long card tables, but elementally--four girls for whose presences she was biologically and socially responsible, polka-dotting the lawn in their summer pastels. The fruits of her womb, implanted repeatedly by the sweetness of her husband, who was currently nowhere to be found. She'd fallen into motherhood without intent, producing a series of daughters with varying shades of hair and varying degrees of unease. She, Marilyn Sorenson, née Connolly--a resilient product of money and tragedy, from dubious socioemotional Irish-Catholic lineage but now, for all intents and purposes, as functional as they come: an admirably natural head of dirty-blond hair, marginally conversant in both literary criticism and the lives of her children, wearing a fitted forest green sheath that exposed the athletic curve of her calves and the freckled landscape of her shoulders. People kept referring to her with great drama as the mother of the bride, and she was trying to act the part, trying to pretend that she wasn't focused almost exclusively on the well-being of her children, none of whom, that particular evening, seemed to be thriving. Maybe normalcy skipped a generation, like baldness. Violet, her second-born, a striking brunette in silk chiffon, had uncharacteristi­cally reeked of booze since breakfast. Wendy was always cause for concern, despite seeming less beleaguered today, owing either to the fact that she'd just married a man who had bank accounts in the Cay­mans or to the fact that this man was, as she vocally professed, "the love of her life." And Grace and Liza, nine years apart but both mal­adjusted, the former a shy, stunted soon-to‑be second-grader and the latter about to friendlessly finish her sophomore year of high school. How could you grow people inside your own body, sprout them from your own extant materials, and suddenly be unable to recognize them? Normalcy: it bore a second look, sociologically speaking. Gracie had found her beneath the ginkgo. Her youngest was almost seven, an insufferable age, aeons from leaving the household, still childish enough that she'd tried to slip into their bed in the mid­dle of the previous night, which wouldn't have been that big of a deal had her parents been clothed at the time. Anxiety did something to Marilyn, always had, drew her magnetically to the animal comfort of her husband. "Sweetheart, why don't you go find--" She hesitated. The only other children at the wedding were toddlers and she didn't specifi­cally want to encourage Grace's already-burgeoning antisocial love of dogs by suggesting that she go play with Goethe, but she wanted a moment to herself, just a few seconds to breathe in the cooling air of early evening. "Go find Daddy, love." "I can't find him," Grace said, the hint of a baby voice blunting her vowels. "Well, look harder." She bent to kiss her daughter's hair. "I need a minute, Goose." * Grace moved off. She'd already checked on Wendy. Already swung on the porch swing with Liza until her sister had been distracted by a boy wearing sneakers with his wedding suit; already convinced Violet to share four sips of champagne from her fancy glass flute. She was out of people to check on. It was strange to have to share her parents with others this week­end, to have her sisters back around the house on Fair Oaks. Her father sometimes called her the "only only-child in the world who has three sisters." She resented, slightly, her sisters homing in on her territory. She soothed herself as she always did, with the company of Goethe, curling up with him beneath the purple flower bushes and running her hand through his bristly fur, the part of his butt that looked like it had been permed. * Liza felt a little bad, seeing her younger sister finding solace in the dog while she herself was finding solace inside a stranger's mouth, but the groomsman emanated a smoky vapor of whiskey and arugula and he was doing something with his fingers to the inside of her thigh that made her turn her head away, deciding that Grace could fend for herself, that it wasn't possible to learn that skill too early. "Tell me about you," the groomsman said, his knuckles grazing the lacy insignificance of the thong she'd worn in the hopes of exactly such an occasion. "What do you want to know?" she asked. It came out sounding kind of hostile. She'd never quite mastered being flirtatious. "There's four of you?" he asked. "What's that like?" "It's a vast hormonal hellscape. A marathon of instability and hair products." He smiled, confused, and she leaned forward boldly and kissed him. * Violet had never been quite so drunk, sitting slumped, alone, at one of the tables, from which she supposed she'd driven the other guests. The previous night came to her in fizzy episodic sunbursts: the bar that used to be a bowling alley; her blue-eyed companion with his double-jointed elbows, the athletic clasp of his thighs, the back of his mother's station wagon; how she'd made sounds she did not recog­nize at first as coming from her own throat, porn star sounds, primal groans. How he came first--she'd later felt him dripping out of her, when they climbed back into the front seat--and then made her, with a deft attention to detail, come as well, for the first time in her life. And how she'd made him drop her a block away from her parents' house lest Wendy be still awake. She watched Wendy, wearing sweetheart-neck Gucci at her back­yard wedding to an old-money academic, being spun in circles by her new husband to "You Can't Hurry Love." Her sister had, for the first time, surpassed her, success-wise. She was blithe and beautiful and twirling in circles while Violet was drunk past the point of physical comfort, gnawing at a full loaf of catered focaccia, rubbing the oil on the underside of her skirt. But she felt herself smiling a little at Wendy, at oblivious Wendy getting grass stains on her satin train. Imagined going over to her sister and whispering in her ear, You'd die if you knew where I was last night . * Wendy watched as Miles, throwing an apologetic smile at her over his shoulder, was pulled away from her by his toddler cousin, their ringbearer, who had solicited his accompaniment to the cake table. "There's some good daddy training happening over there," some­one said, taking her by the elbow. It was a guest from Miles's side, possibly someone's real estate broker, a silicone goblin of a woman. The people on the lawn at present were probably collectively worth more than the GDP of a midsize country. "It's good you're so young. Plenty of time to flesh out the family tree." It seemed a crass thing to say for a variety of reasons, so Wendy responded in kind: "Who says I want to split up my share among a bunch of kids?" The woman looked horrified, but Wendy and Miles lived for these jokes, were allowed to make these jokes because neither of them gave a fuck if people thought Wendy was a gold digger; all that mattered was what they knew to be true, which was that she'd never loved another person as fiercely as she did Miles Eisenberg, and he, by some grand cosmic miracle, loved her back. She was an Eisenberg now. In the top thirty, at least, of the wealthiest families in Chicago. She could fuck with whomever she wanted. "It's my plan to outlive everyone and spend my days reveling in a disgusting level of opulence," she said. And she rose from her seat and went to straighten her new husband's tie. * The trees, David noted, were at burgeoning that day, big prodigious leaves making dancing shadows across the grass, which they'd tried to keep the dog off of for the sake of aesthetic preservation, David and Marilyn rising early in the mornings and pulling on raincoats over their pajamas to walk him instead of just opening the back door like they normally did. David watched as the rented tables and chairs wore their grooves into the pristine lawn, legs melon-balling the expensively fertilized sod in a way that made his gut churn. Goethe was now roaming around the yard like a recently released convict, traversing the verdant grounds with the proprietary confidence of a horticulturist. David took a breath of damp air--was rain coming? It might make the guests leave sooner--and marveled over the sheer number of people that could accumulate in a lifetime, the number of faces in his yard that he didn't recognize. He thought of Wendy as a toddler, when they lived in Iowa, creeping onto the porch where he and Marilyn rocked together in the rickety cedar swing, fitting herself neatly between them and murmuring, already drifting back to sleep, You're my friends. He was nearly overcome, standing there, feel­ing as out-of-place as he had a quarter of a century ago, before they'd married, a chilly December night when Marilyn had lain against his chest beneath the ginkgo. He did a visual sweep, eyes blurring the sea of pale spring colors until he found his wife, a tiny ballast of forest green: hiding beneath that very same ginkgo. He slipped along the fence until he came to her, and reached out an imploring hand to the small of her back. She leaned instinctively into it. "Come with me," he said, and led her around the trunk, into the shade, where he pulled her to him and buried his face in her hair. "Sweetheart," she said, worried. "What is it?" He pressed his face into the crook of her neck, breathing in the faint dry warmth of her scent, lilacs and Irish Spring. "I missed you," he said into her clavicle. "Oh, love." She tightened her embrace, tilted his chin until he met her eyes. He kissed her mouth, and then her cheekbone and her forehead and the inlet of her jaw where he could feel her pulse, and then her mouth again. She was smiling, lips a flushed feverish plum, and then she was kissing him back, the periphery blurring away. The thing that would always mean more than everything else: the goldish warmth of his wife, the heat of their mutual desperation; two bodies finding solace in the only way they knew how, through the language of lips, his hands along her spine, her spine against the tree trunk, the resultant quiet that occurred when they came together, until she pulled away, smiled up at him and said, "Just don't let the girls catch us," before she buried herself once again against him. * But of course they saw. All four of the girls watched their parents from disparate vantage points across the lawn, each alerted initially to their absence from the reception by that pull, a vestigial holdover from childhood, seeking the cognitive comfort that came from the knowing, the geolocation, the proximity of those who'd created you, those who would always feel beholden to you, no matter what; each of their four daughters paused what she was doing in order to watch them, the shining unfathomable orb of their parents, two people who emanated more love than it seemed like the universe would sanction. Excerpted from The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.