THE MOST FUN WE EVER HAD
By: Claire Lombardo
Published: June 25, 2019
Publisher: Doubleday Books
We all have that family that we idolize. There is that idyllic family that is always happy, always seems to have everything fall into place, and their kids are successful and beautiful. In Lombardo’s debut novel, that family is the Sorensen family. David and Marilyn are college sweethearts and still, sickeningly at times, act like they are in college. They have been blessed with four daughters and from the outside, they look like the perfect family. But, as is true in real life, the Sorensens have their own secrets and family drama.
Between the present day life of each of the Sorensens and their past life, the reader gets to go behind closed doors and have a front row seat to all the unbelievable actions of each family member. From a secret pregnancy to an illicit affair to numerous lies, this family is far from perfect. The story begins in Oak Park, Illinois where David and Marilyn currently live in their family home. Their daughters Wendy, Violet, and Liza live nearby while their youngest daughter, Grace is in Portland. Each daughter’s life is in a current state of upheaval and David and Marilyn try to be supportive while going through their own changes in life. David is recently retired from his medical practice and Marilyn came late to her career, owning a hardware store after their youngest started school.
If someone asked her to poetically describe her marriage, she would articulate that particular feeling, one of simultaneously wanting him pressed against her and also on another continent. ~ Marilyn
Readers will have feelings of shock, anger, sadness, and joy, sometimes all on the same page. By immersing yourselves in the lives of the Sorensen family, you become emotionally attached, hating their choices but rooting for them at the same moment. You’ll laugh at the snarkiness of Wendy and yet cringe when her sarcasm goes too far. You’ll feel sorry for Violet and then moments later want to slap her into reality.
Wendy and Violet, sisters born eleven months apart have their own baggage and on-again/off-again relationship. Liza as the middle child is labeled as the most responsible one and yet can’t seem to be making any good choices at the moment. Grace, the much younger baby of the family feels like no one accepts that she is an adult and can’t bear to admit the truth to her family what she is or is not actually doing in Portland.
She didn’t have a middle name, and she didn’t have her own memories, and this was the trouble with being an epilogue. You got shoved at the end of the book before anyone gave you a chance to read it. ~ Grace
By taking the reader back and forth from the present to the past, we see the arc of the family and how they maybe got to this point in their lives where everyone seems to be falling apart.
And it was weird, she thought, feeling adult and aware, how a thing so terrible as losing someone could yield goodness in the ones who were left. ~Wendy
This is a hefty novel at over 500 pages and I was honestly worried about giving that much of my time to a novel. But, with lots of dialogue and a propulsive storyline, readers will be surprised to notice how quick a read it is. I did find the dialogue a bit choppy at times. But, I feel like the author was trying to make the conversations as realistic as possible. Our own conversations can be disjointed and jump around a bit and this is how some of them were in this novel. However, sometimes, I just wanted a character to finish her sentence.
Claire Lombardo is experiencing the joy of her first novel at the age of 30 and it’s hard to believe she has enough experience to write about such a complicated family. But, I found her depiction of the All-American family and all their messiness to be realistic and identifiable. The Sorensen family was relatable and made us angry at them one moment and happy for them the next…much like how we feel about our own families. As readers we all have limited reading time and choosing a 500+ page novel may seem a stretch, but I’m glad I spent my time reading about this family. It made me appreciate the unique qualities of my own sisters and how hard and easy it can be to love them.
I was thrilled to have the opportunity to meet and talk with debut author, Claire Lombardo. We met in the famous Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City, home of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. This review and interview were originally written for The Cedar Rapids Gazette to promote her upcoming reading at Prairie Lights on Tuesday, July 9, 2019, at 7:00 PM as well as at Dragonfly Books in Decorah, Iowa on Thursday, July 11, 2019, at 7:00 PM. If you are available for either of these readings or any of her other stops on her book tour, make sure to go. Claire is a delight!
It’s a bit surreal for Claire Lombardo to be sitting in Prairie Lights talking about her upcoming book with me. She remembers just a few years ago, being chosen for the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and dreaming of seeing her book on the shelves here. Lombardo is bubbly and humble. She is proud of all the hard work she has put in, yet admits it didn’t happen alone. She is extremely grateful to the mentors she’s had pushing her to this moment, having her debut novel published.
Like many authors I’ve interviewed, Lombardo never thought that writing could actually be a career choice for her. She started out working for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless thinking she would eventually obtain her Masters in Social Work. But she realized she was spending more time on her novel than on her degree. “I’ve always written. All my sisters were creative writers, but it never seemed like a feasible path. I didn’t think being a writer would be sustainable.” Being accepted into the Iowa Writers’ Workshop only solidified her desire to make writing work as a career. “This was the first time anyone said, you can write and we will give you money to live,” Lombardo said. All she had to do was go to class and write. Her time in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop focused more on a smaller portion of her current novel, mainly a short story about the father character. But this experience was transformative. “For two years I had this wonderful, supportive peer group. Yes, there was an element of competition, but my cohorts were genuinely wanting our writing to get better.” Lombardo stated, “I got the opportunity to teach my second year which was wonderful because it married my writer side with my social work side. I had a wonderful advisor who I worked with for a year, using the book as my thesis. I gave him my 800-page manuscript and he was the only one to read my novel here in Iowa.” That time spent one on one with her advisor, editing and working on the structure of her novel was much like working with her editor at Doubleday. “I was very lucky to find a professor who was a great reader and stuck with me on this project.”
Lombardo’s debut novel, THE MOST FUN WE EVER HAD, chronicles the Sorensen family of Oak Park, Illinois. Lombardo wanted to write a novel set in her home community, but the Sorensen family is not based on any character from her own family. She does understand family dynamics since she is the youngest of five children and has 3 sisters. She wanted to explore the way sisters interact in childhood and adulthood based on how her sisters interacted. “My sisters always said, ‘Claire doesn’t say much but you know she is listening’. I overanalyze to a fault. Family drama has always been fascinating to me and I immersed myself into the characters of this novel as deeply as possible.” Lombardo also wanted to explore a father character with that many women in his family. “Our father was very emotionally intelligent and enjoyed having daughters and being surrounded by women.”
Choosing a title and cover can be a bit overwhelming for authors, but Claire Lombardo, fortunately, had it fairly easy. “I feel very lucky to have had such a great experience with my editor. The ginkgo leaves on the cover were the first cover image they sent me and I loved it.” A ginkgo tree is a prominent tree that resides in the Sorensen’s yard in her novel. Coming up with the title took a bit more work with about a month of back and forth emails, but “we finally had a moment where we got it.”
Her debut novel is hefty at over 500 pages, rare for a first-time author. “I have a joke with my editor that people keep saying, ‘I liked this book. I wish it wasn’t so long’.” Lombardo gives me an incredulous look. She stated how her manuscript was over 700 pages and they trimmed it down to as long as it needs to be. “I wanted to reach a point where I could point to any scene and justify why it was in there. The feedback has been great and it reads faster than you think.”
A second book has been started, this time with a focus on the exploration of a marriage. However, this fictional marriage is much different than her current book, much less idyllic. Lombardo treats writing as her job by waking up and having a routine which includes a certain amount of writing per day as well as working in a walk or two. Her desk is an old picnic table that was her grandparents. She also covers a wall with a post-it grid, assigning each character a color and each post-it a scene. “It’s how I visualize the novel and the shape of the story. I can look at it and notice, Oh, I need to see more ‘pink Wendy’. I have every color of post-its you would ever want,” Lombardo laughs.
If Lombardo could meet a fellow author on her upcoming book tours, she would love to see Lorrie Moore, a short story writer. Her sister told her about her writing and it’s who she goes to when she needs inspiration. She is also a huge fan of Maria Semple and John Cheever.
Lombardo has been trying to read MIDDLEMARCH for the last four years. Maybe this summer she will finish it. She is mostly a fiction reader. In a hotel room recently in Santa Monica she found MY EX-LIFE by Steven McCauley and it reminded her of her favorite book, WHERE’D YOU GO BERNADETTE. A friend, De’Shawn Winslow just came out with IN WEST MILLS so she purchased that the day it came out.
Lombardo is still a bit shocked that she has a book out in the world. She is looking forward to interacting with people who read her book. It’s a real privilege and she loves all the stories readers share with her about their own families. Lombardo will be heading out on a Midwest tour of indie books stores this summer and even to Germany in October for the debut of her book there. For more about Claire and her upcoming tour, be sure to visit her website, HERE or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
To purchase a copy of THE MOST FUN WE EVER HAD, click the photo below:
Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. Thanks to Claire Lombardo for taking time out of her busy release week to meet with me. If you choose to purchase the book through the above link, I may receive a small commission without you having to pay a cent more for your purchase.