“We’re all just holding our breath and hoping nothing catastrophic happens”*

-Claire Lombardo, The Most Fun We Ever Had

*This is how Marilyn Sorrenson described parenthood to her daughter Wendy and it’s one of the reasons I loved this book.

Our first book club selection was a whopping 500+ pages long and was, in my opinion, a really engaging read. I must admit I hadn’t known the size when I chose the book, and I am grateful. I may have been too worried to assign such a long book our first time around.

The book is ‘The Most Fun We Ever Had’ by Claire Lombardo. 

When I saw that Claire had commented on the Instagram post announcing this book, I decided to take a chance and ask her if she would skype into our first meeting. To my delight, she said yes! It was pretty cool that someone with a book being made into a series and on a billion lists of must-read books of 2019 cared enough to comment on an Instagram post and skype into our meeting.

I read the book in a week. At first, it felt very foreign and American to me. That is because, as a Saudi, it was foreign to me, and it is an American story. Soon, I got over the obvious and settled into the story. And once I remembered who was who, without having to flip back and check, it was pretty hard to put down.

It is written in a relaxed, unpretentious manner and peppered with phrases assembled in a way that made me want to go back and reread them. Sentences like this one in the prologue when she says of Marilyn “She’d fallen into motherhood without intent, producing a series of daughters with varying shades of hair and varying degrees of unease”.

The story follows the Sorrenson family for one year, with flashbacks to various times in their lives. It is about, to me, the profound effect parents have on their children that is almost invisible as it happens. The thing that struck me was the little things she would notice throughout with more significant meanings behind them.

As someone interested in the effect that messages we get as children have on our adult life, I found her ability to shine a light on the little moments that made the Sorrenson women who they are absolutely fascinating.

I also loved how clearly she depicted the sudden and quite surprising stumble into adulthood I experienced myself. I never quite understood how it happened. She says about Marilyn:

“It surprised her anew -as it had when David signed their lease, when she wrote the monthly check to the gas company, when the girls were born- how these instances of adult responsibility were just foisted upon you, without preamble or training. Suddenly she didn’t have parents, and there was nobody around to tell her what that meant, or how she was supposed to feel about it.”

On marriage, she says:

“This was arguably one of the life-saving rationalisations for the institution of marriage, one party consumed with worry so the other could sleep through the night.”

And on Monday night, a group of 12 women, at various degrees of reading this book, got together to discuss.

Be warned, from now on there will be spoilers!

We set the time for the meeting an hour before Clair was meant to call in. We deliberately did this so we can have time to discuss before. Meaning so that we can be brutally honest in a way we are all too polite to be with the author present.

We all agreed the book was engaging and difficult to put down. There was a lot of sympathy for Marilyn from many of the group. While I and a couple of others held empathised with Wendy. Yes, she was rude and quite frankly beyond hurtful to her mother, but I kept going back to those messages she must have picked up on when she was very young. Her mother was unhappy, tired, gave up her career for her and very quickly got pregnant again after having her.

I remember reading somewhere that it’s not about what happened to you when you were a child that matters, it’s about how you feel about what happened to you. I imagine for Wendy, at a young child, she could only see that her mother was tired and unhappy as a result of being a mother. As a result of Wendy. And the more she rebelled, the more tired and unhappy her mother was, the more significant the gap between them grew. We can see that Marilyn loved her daughter. And as adults, some of us mothers, we can see that her exhaustion did not lessen that love. For a child tho, it could be felt differently.

We all couldn’t quite get Violet and her inability to accept Jonah. The strange contradiction between how loving she was with her two younger children and how in the same breath almost she could be so hateful to her firstborn who is blameless in the whole mess.

And finally, we debated what came at the forefront of Marylin and Davids life, themselves or their children? I personally felt that their daughters, while loved, were not the main act. They were a result of what was really important to them and therefore, they were important.

The consensus seemed to be that there was a lot left to explore in general in all of the characters. What was there was not enough. Did this need to be two books? A series? While I was reading the book, it was entirely satisfying, but in the end, I did feel we skimmed a bit. Possibly because it is just a year and we are left going back and forth and uncovering little pieces to put together to make a whole.

8 p.m. rolled around, and we waited for Claire to pop up on our screen. When she did, she was sitting on a couch, laptop on her lap and daylight streaming into her living room. It was 12 p.m. where she was. I said a quick hello then handed it over to our nominated author whisperer Reem Siraj. We all agreed we were happy to have Reem represent us as we knew she would do so beautifully and is the kind of person you really cannot get enough of talking to.

I won’t do a blow by blow, but what struck me the most was that Claire herself struggled with her characters just as much as we did. She told us Violet was the hardest one of the characters for her to understand and that sometimes she didn’t like her. She agreed that Wendy was absolutely horrible to her mother and how difficult the scenes between them were to write. We did not, in fact, need that hour before to say what we thoughts because the Author agreed.

Highlights:

we asked if the characters were based on people she knew

Her answer: No. Mostly. She did see her mother in Marilyn and her father in David.

Her wall of post-it notes was intriguing, were they the beginning of the story? How do they fit in? It turns out they came along after the story was done. She colour coded each characters storylines to see how much time each person got in the book and to make sure everyone had their fair share.

Picture taken from Claire Lombardo’s Instagram account.

It took Claire 5 years to write it, and if it weren’t for her friends and editors, she would still be writing it.

Most interestingly, the story began as one about Violet and the reappearance of her firstborn into her life.

The thing that struck us the most was how down to earth and genuine she was. She seemed to enjoy being part of this and answered our questions with a lot of interest altho I can imagine she’s been asked them many times before.

I’ll end this now, as it’s getting too long, with one of my favorite paragraphs from the book. When Marilyn is telling Wendy how no one is ever ready for parenthood:

“Were all just holding our breath and hoping nothing catastrophic happens. And how deeply you get hurt doing that! It’s constant pain. It’s a parade of complete and utter agony, all the time, forever.”

“It takes such a long time to realize that it’s worth it. I wonder why were engineered that way. We’re sleep-deprived to the point of madness those first couple of years and then one day you wake up and you see this little person you’ve created and she says a sentence to you and you realize that everything in your life has been an audition for the creation of that specific person. That you are sending freestanding beings off into the world and it’s entirely on your shoulders”.

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