Did You Ever Have a Family
By Bill Clegg


West Maui Book Club DISCUSSION QUESTIONS compiled by:
Elaine Gallant
Mar. 16, 2017

Aloha and mahalo for visiting our site! Please feel free to use our discussion questions online or off with attribution to the West Maui Book Club. All page or location numbers refer to the Hard Cover version.

1) How did the story knit together for you considering all the different characters and how they interrelated by the time you finished reading?

2) There were several characters that appeared in the story only briefly, like: Edith, the flower shop owner, and her son, Rick. Also siblings, mother-in-laws, fathers, mothers, caretakers. Did they fill in any blanks or enhance the story for you?

3) How did speculation and rumor affect the lives of Luke and Lydia, Luke and June, and June and Lolly? For ex: Ch 5, Pg 50 when Rick suggested Lydia had "something to do with" Luke getting caught with cocaine or when he asked on Pg 59 "what use was the truth when they had Luke, the ex-con, bastard black son of the town floozy who landed in a pot of honey with an older gal from the city. It follows a logic, one of my customers said at the time." Another is from Rebecca on Pg 66 who says, "Funny how you think people are one way or the other and most of the time you end up completely wrong." And from Dale on Pg 212 who says, "We chose to believe that what happened was a horrible accident, nothing more and nothing less. Anyone who had ever been in that kitchen knows it had to have been something to do with the stove. It looked like something from the Depression era. Rusty and white, tilting at an angle. I remember the afternoon before the rehearsal watching June fussing over one of the burners to boil water for tea, muttering when it wouldn’t light right away. If I blame anyone, it’s June. She should have taken care to replace that treacherous appliance. It was so clearly not safe. She had the means, and the rest of the property was well maintained, meticulous even. I try not to think about it, but at times I catch myself wondering how on earth could she have missed this one thing. How could she have been so careless? Knowing that June must agonize over these same questions dulls with pity, but does not eradicate, the anger I can still feel."

4) The towns of Wells, CT (home to June, Lydia, etc) and Moclips, WA (home to Cissy, Rebecca, Kelly) are similar: east and west coast small towns where one family dominates (Morey’s vs Cissy’s) and are subject to its inhabitants keeping tightlipped. They talk about people but not about things. Discuss why this might be. Ch 3: Edith, (Pg 24) - There’s a lot of resentment simmering underneath the smiles and so good to see yous and no problem, happy to do thats of this town. So when someone crosses the line, it can get uncomfortable. Ch 4: Lydia, (Pg 38)- A gas leak, an explosion, four people dead, a young couple to be married later that day, the mother of the bride standing on the lawn watching it happen, her ex-husband asleep upstairs and her boyfriend in the kitchen, an ex-con, she makes sure to emphasize, and black, not that it matters, she adds in a whisper. Ch 7: Lydia, (Pg 74) - There is safety in numbers, Ch 8: June, (Pg 94) - Nothing changes here, Ch 9: Rebecca, (Pg 109) - For a long time I didn’t speak beyond muttering. Neither did Kelly. We just sort of coexisted in near silence for months. Ch 22: Dale, (Pg 214) -- Not out of anger or punishment, but we’ve learned that grief can sometimes get loud, and when it does, we try not to speak over it.

5) Pg 17 June says, “Who had been fighting with someone they loved? Going at it long enough to unleash the irretrievable words they knew to say only because they had been trusted to know what would hurt the most.” And later she thinks about the most hurtful thing she said to Luke on Pg 263, asking, “How could she be so cruel to a man who had only ever offered her friendship and kindness and love?” Ch 11: Dale, (Pg 131) - Pru more of a comment on June’s struggles with Lolly: Did you ever have a family? Ch 21: June, (Pg 262) - Because you’re not the guy someone like me marries, you’re the guy someone like me ends up with after their marriage is over.

6) Talk about regret… Ch 29: Lydia, (Pg 269) - Silas, who she at first wanted to strangle for being so stupid, for making the choice he did to save himself; but as painful and senseless as what he told her might seem to anyone else, she understood. She understood bad choices made from fear, acted on out of a misguided sense of survival. Ch 31: Lydia, (Pg 282) - She knew what it was like to take responsibility for calamity. She knew what it was like to live with regret. (Pg 282) - What she had to tell June would not replace the losses, but it would make clear what had happened and let her know that neither she nor Luke had been at fault. (Pg 286) - They were all to blame, she thought, trying to calm down. (Pg 287) - Here was someone she understood. Someone alive but destroyed. Ch 32: Cissy, (Pg 290) - That’s how it’s been for years.

7) What did you make of Lydia’s involvement with Winton, the Lottery scammer?

8) Just how well did Lydia remember George when George says of Lydia and their few days together at the Betsy Hotel: Ch 16: George, (Pg 176) - To this day I remember those hours with Lydia Morey as some of the sweetest and most desperate of my life. I wonder if she remembers them at all.

9) Do you think Luke went to jail because of Lydia and that those drugs were hers?

10) There is no chapter on Luke to explain his position, when he is blamed for so much but also respected and appreciated. Why do you think the author omitted such a central character’s perspective? What is your opinion of Luke?

11) Consider this: Cissy is to June as (blank) is to (blank). Fill in those blanks. Or, Silas is eventually to June? Kelly is to Rebecca? Luke is to everyone?

12) Who do you think is ultimately responsible for the fire? Ch 5: Rick, (Pg 57) -- People say Luke was responsible for what happened. That June was dumping him and he wanted to get back at her or that he was high that night and accidently left the gas going. For a while a hateful rumor went around that one of the Moreys from the volunteer fire department found a crack pipe in the kitchen near Luke’s body. Sure they did. But facts never got in anyone’s way when it came to Luke, so I guess it should be no surprise that the story of what happened that night would be no different. Chapter 22: Dale, (Pg 213) - the boy paid a high price and God bless his tortured soul. His time in jail and his being black made him an easy scapegoat in that town, which you could hardly call racially diverse. Will, who planned on becoming a public defender in communities that didn’t have adequate representation, would have been livid to see how swiftly the finger was pointed. So with so much unknown, our family chose to follow Will’s lead and let go of any theories or blame. This doesn’t mean we haven’t suffered, we have. And it doesn’t mean we’ve found peace.

From the publisher: Simon and Schuster

Topics and Questions for Discussion

1. After June has had an argument with her daughter, Lolly, the night before Lolly’s wedding, “Pru asked if she was okay, and June answered with a question that seemed to Pru more of a comment on June’s struggles with Lolly: Did you ever have a family? ” (p. 131) Why do you think Clegg choose this line as the title of his novel? What does being part of a family mean to each of the characters in the novel? Do any of their perspectives change?

2. When a particularly pushy news anchor asks June how she is “surviving” the loss of her loved ones following a house fire, she answers, “No one has survived.” (p. 12) Explain June’s statement. Do you agree with June that, although she is alive, she has not survived? How are June and the others affected by the tragedy are coping with their grief?

3. Rebecca says “Funny how you think people are one way or the other and most of the time you end up completely wrong” (p. 66) when describing her initial assessment of Cissy. What causes Rebecca to change her mind? Apply Rebecca’s statement to the other characters in Did You Ever Have a Family. Were you wrong about any? If so, how?

4. Discuss the structure of Did You Ever Have a Family. What is the effect of having multiple narrators? Do the differing points of view help to deepen your understanding of the main characters, particularly June and Lydia? If so, how? Why do you think that June’s and Lydia’s sections are told in the third person?

5. At a local bar, Lydia remembers hearing a patron say “Some trees love an ax,” and “something in what he said rang true, but when she later remembered what he’d said, she disagreed and thought instead that the tree gets used to the ax, which has nothing to do with love.” (p. 78) How does this statement apply to Lydia’s relationship with Earl? Are there any other relationships in Did You Ever Have a Family where this statement could apply? Compare and contrast Lydia’s relationship with Earl to the other relationships in the book, taking a look at June’s relationships with Adam and Luke.

6. What did you think about June and Lydia’s friendship? When Lydia sees June on the morning of the fire “June turned her face away as if avoiding a hot flame and . . . flicked her hand toward Lydia, the way you wave away an unwanted animal, or a beggar.” (p. 80) Why is this so hurtful to Lydia? Were you surprised to learn the reasons for June’s actions? What were they?

7. Of Lydia, George says “though she was troubled, she was also tough in ways that let me know she’d be okay.” (p. 174) Do you agree with George? Discuss Lydia’s relationship with George. Why are the two of them drawn to each other?

8. When the narrator first introduces June it is with the line “She will go.” (p. 9) Does this introduction affect how you think of June? In what ways? Why is June so set on severing all ties with Wells? Do you agree with her decision to do so? Why or why not?

9. Of Lolly, Dale, her future father-in-law, says “Lolly seemed unformed to us.” (p. 129) Did you get a sense of her character, and, did you think, like Dale “that despite her girlish manner, something was broken in her.” (p. 210) Explain your answer. What is the effect of including Lolly’s letter to June in the story? Did it help you understand both Lolly and her relationship with June? Explain your answer.

10. George says of his son Robert that when his wife Kay would “tell me it wasn’t [his son’s] job to be interested in me, it was my job to be interested in him.” (p. 170) Do you agree with Kay? What role do you think a parent should fill in his or her child’s life? Do you think that Lydia and June are good mothers to Luke and Lolly respectively? Give examples to support your answer.

11. Cissy says, “Rough as life can be, I know in my bones we are supposed to stick around and play our part.” (p. 289) What part has Cissy played in the lives of those around her? Talk about the way each of the characters in Did You Ever Have a Family affects the lives of those around them. Was anything particularly surprising to you? What?

12. Who is Winton? Although Lydia distrusts him, “she’s still not ready to step away,” (p. 143) she continue to take his calls. Why? What prompts Lydia to share her life story with Winston? Were you surprised by what she revealed? How do you think Winton’s presence has changed Lydia?

13. When June finds Lolly’s notebooks she remembers cataloging canvases by a deceased client and finding an old Boy Scout manual of his filled with drawings. “Very likely no one had ever seen these drawings, and she remembers having the fleeting instinct to steal the book and keep it herself.” (p. 179) Why does June think about hoarding the book? Why do you think finding Lolly’s notebooks has triggered this memory for June? How does June react to Lolly’s work?

14. Almost every one in Wells has an opinion of Luke, particularly after he dies. Edith calls him “that doomed Luke Morey” (p. 28), Rick remembers him as being “too big, too handsome, too something for the likes of us” (p. 52) and many of the locals gossip that he was a “local thug.” (p. 40) What did you think of Luke? Why do you think he was such a controversial figure in Wells?

15. Silas “thinks of himself as [Lydia’s] guardian, her shadow.” (p. 265). Why does Silas think that Lydia needs protecting? Silas ultimately decides to tell Lydia the truth about the role he thinks that he has played in Luke’s death. What makes him confess? What is the effect on Lydia?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Read Bill Clegg’s memoirs, Portrait of the Addict as a Young Man and Ninety Days and discuss them with your book club. Are there any similarities between the works, particularly in Clegg’s writing style? Did reading the memoirs help you better understand some of the themes Clegg has tackled in Did You Ever Have a Family? If so, discuss how.

2. June is able to find solace in the Moonstone Hotel in Moclips. Are there any places in your life where you are able to find peace? Discuss them with your book club.

3. Did You Ever Have a Family has drawn comparisons to The Hours. Read both books, then, compare and contrast them in your book club. In what ways are the two books alike? How is the structure of each book similar? What were the notable differences between the two?

4. To learn more about Bill Clegg, visit his official site at www.billcleggauthor.com.