The Most Fun We Ever Had is an ambitious and brilliantly written first novel, sometimes amusing and sometimes shocking, but its unrelenting nature and lack of context is ultimately off-putting. The Sorensons seem to live in Iowa City and Lake Forest without being aware of their surroundings. If they were my neighbours, I would suggest they get out of the house and take a walk around the neighbourhood. If they saw the bigger picture, they might be able to relax.
he big family secret is revealed almost immediately in Claire Lombardo’s engrossing debut novel, “The Most Fun We Ever Had,” which connects four decades in the lives of the Sorensons of Oak Park, Chicago. But all the small secrets — from misremembered slights to misplaced bedsheets — are uncovered patiently, skillfully, precisely, in service of the novel’s central mystery: How do you love?... you may be thinking that there’s no way four women can spend an entire book being obsessed with their happily married parents and that perhaps I just have some sort of older suburban couple kink. (Perhaps!) But here’s the thing — Lombardo renders that obsession with such skill and finely tuned interest that it feels like a quiet subversion of the traditional family saga, a new way for the past to bless or poison the present and an unexpected engine for the revelations about being human that she delivers so beautifully.
Lombardo has a wry, often spiky humour and tightly written style that should appeal to fans of Maria Semple, Emma Straub and Jennifer Egan. Her novel follows a comfortable Chicago family, the Sorensons, over two generations, moving between the college meeting of parents David and Marilyn, to a present where their four self-doubting daughters are either at war with themselves or each other. A moving, immersive, often very funny study of family and sisterhood.
Lombardo has a keen eye and ear for dysfunctional family dynamics: sibling rivalry, marital disquiet, parental guilt.
This is a novel epic in scope – emotionally, psychologically and narratively. Combining a broad thematic canvas with impressive emotional nuance, it’s an assured and highly enjoyable debut.
This is a conventional novel, but an expertly rendered one, with the multiple ugly tensions between Violet and Wendy in particular providing a ghoulishly dysfunctional sideshow to their parents’ loved-up spectacle.
There is, however, just the faintest irksome hint of smugness in Lombardo’s authorial tone, as though she sides a little too much with characters whose privilege will, in the end, see them through.