The Most Fun We Ever Had (Doubleday) is an expansive novel centering around relationships with a focus on our families. Written by Claire Lombardo, a Chicago native and Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate, her debut novel based in her home state captivates with precise prose and well-developed, realistically flawed characters.

Truth hidden behind the obscure is a continual theme throughout these 500 plus pages. Characters see each other in different lights, sometimes more positively, but more often in a negative grey cloud of insecurity. Marilyn Connolly and David Sorenson are the parents of four grown daughters and the sounding board to the family. They are perceived by their daughters (and others around them) as the ideal couple with an unbreakable bond and unbelievably active sexual appetite for one another.

In their daughters’ eyes, Marilyn and David set a high standard when it comes to a marriage, often leaving their children with the sense of never-ending doom to finding their own comparable relationships. However, as the story goes on, and the chapters weave between past and present, we see Marilyn and David’s share of problems, making it clear (at least to the reader) that these two aren’t as perfect as others make them out to be.

But the parents’ perfect love life is not the only misinterpretation in this novel. The lives of the four daughters, Liza, Grace, Violet, and Wendy, also prove to be obscure in the most entertaining way. Within these pages, we learn more about their losses and lies in a way that both stuns and humbles readers. Each character is viewed through a certain upbeat lens by their peers but personally bears something heavy internally.

Wendy, the brash and angry sister, secretly suffers from one inconsolable loss after another. Violet seems to have it all including the perfect family but feels damaged by a past that is anything but flawless. Liza can be easily pitied, pregnant with a despondent boyfriend that drags her down, but time reveals that she isn’t as innocent as she seems. And then there’s Grace, the youngest who can do no wrong in her parents’ eyes. Under Grace’s immaculate veil, she harbors lies that make her reality almost unbearable. No one is as they seem to one another. Over the course of the novel, layer after layer of each character is deliciously stripped away to expose their true selves.

Alternating flashback chapters with the present day helps shape not only the story but also these beloved characters. This format brilliantly allows the reader to uncover the inner workings of each person, and how differently they are perceived by their family members. This format makes the lengthy book accessible and gives credit to the perplexity of each character.

This novel is a long one and can be intimating to ingest, but the Sorenson family is one you’ll likely want to know. They fight, they lie and they envy one another with the most extreme resentment. But through it all, their love and compassion shines through. Family dynamics are often complicated when pretenses and appearances are stripped away. This novel affords us an intimate view of dramatic discoveries, balanced by heartwarming resolutions.

The Most Fun We Ever Had is now available for purchase.

ABOUT CLAIRE LOMBARDO:

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.