In January of this year, eight months before its release date, the buzz was already starting to build for Bill Clegg's Did You Ever Have a Family
. Bookseller colleagues were passing around the few advance reader copies we could get a hold of and telling each other, "You have to read this!" Four major review sites — Kirkus
, Publishers Weekly
, Library Journal
, and Booklist
— all gave it a starred review, and recently the Man Booker Prize committee longlisted it for the 2015 award.
Did You Ever Have a Family is Clegg's debut novel, but the author is no stranger to the publishing world. He has worked for years as a literary agent and written two bestselling memoirs, Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man and Ninety Days, both of which won wide acclaim for their candidness about addiction.
A heartbreakingly beautiful story filled with hope, loss, and redemption, Did You Ever Have a Family follows several characters as they try to piece their lives back together in the aftermath of a devastating accident. Michael Cunningham raves, "The force, range, and scope of Bill Clegg's Did You Ever Have a Family will grab you with its opening lines, and won't let go until its final one. I can't recall another novel that so effortlessly weds a nuanced, lyrical voice to an unflinching vision of just how badly things can go for people." Darin Strauss adds, "You hold in your hands a great book of kindness — every restrained, exquisite sentence comes loaded for bear. It's been a lot of years since a novel has so moved me. Number Bill Clegg among that endangered species: major American writer." We couldn't agree more, which is why we're thrilled to have chosen it for Volume 55 of Indiespensable.
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Shawn Donley: Your first two books were bestselling memoirs. Why did you decide to transition to fiction for this new book?
Bill Clegg: The transition wasn't as clean as it might appear from the outside. I had actually begun writing the novel in fits and starts, sort of in and around writing both memoirs.
At the time it was just getting ideas out of my head and down in a file, which is not unusual. The unusual part was that it kept on growing. Then, after I had written the books, there was just something about it that had a center of gravity. And I kept on coming back to it until it was finished.
Shawn: Is the process of writing fiction different for you?
Clegg: The experience is different. It's much more joyful. There's more curiosity; there's less known insight. There's that crackle of surprise and wonder connected to it. Whereas with a memoir, it's a transcription with noted ends. It has different satisfactions, pleasures, and meaning.