Book Review: The Most Fun We Ever Had

Alright, I’m back at it with the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist! The Most Fun We’ve Ever Had follows the close-knit Sorenson family through a tumultuous year of family secrets and tensions. A secret son reenters his mother’s life fifteen years after he was put up for adoption, causing old tensions to resurface between the two sisters who concealed his existence many years before; another daughter is left by her boyfriend shortly after she becomes pregnant with his child, although she won’t tell her family why he left her; and the youngest daughter, physically isolated in Oregon from the rest of her family in Illinois, tells a white lie that spins into a massive web of lies from which she can’t extricate herself.

The book: The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 3 stars out of 5

I have such mixed opinions on this book, but one of the things that generally worked for me was the writing style. I especially liked the author’s use of trailing and stammering sentences in characters’ conversations around challenging subjects; I thought it made the dialogue more realistic. At the same time, though, there were several dramatic scenes and dialogues where the emotional impact just wasn’t there for me, so I suppose the dialogue wasn’t entirely believable. Also, this may be petty, but there were a few instances of the author using science terminology in a way that didn’t quite make sense – e.g. “the building was shaped like a genome” – and it really irked me.

The structure of the novel worked for me at first, but eventually became frustrating. The chapters alternate between past and present, with the past-focused chapters moving chronologically closer to the present, and each chapter featuring multiple characters’ perspectives in that moment in time. This worked at first, because it helped to establish the main characters and their complex relationships with each other; and some of the backstory provided in the past-focused chapters clearly provided valuable insights into the complicated family dynamic. Over time, though, the constant perspective and time shifts became jarring: a scene would start to become compelling and intriguing, only for the plot to be interrupted by a past-focused chapter that didn’t add much nuance to the story.

Thematically, The Most Fun We Ever Had did a great job demonstrating that things that look perfect on the outside rarely are. By providing inside looks into the Sorenson parents’ picture-perfect marriage, as well as the lives of the seemingly successful Sorenson children, Lombardo highlights the characters’ desires to appear that they are doing well, when in fact they are all lost in their own ways. Lombardo also depicts how some characters feel less anxious after owning up to their mistakes. This seems to be an endorsement for living honestly and authentically rather than pretending to have it all together, and it’s a message that I really appreciated, especially in a social-media-driven world where there is pressure to only share the most appealing parts of your life and your self.

Beyond that, though, I wasn’t sure what messages to take away from the novel. So many of the problems laid out in the book were specific to this one wealthy, enmeshed, and seriously complicated family. And some of the family’s problems were resolved in unsatisfying ways – like a years-long sibling tension being “resolved” because one of the siblings in the relationship apologized for her part in a fight, letting the other sibling off the hook; or an adult giving her child a shallow apology that focuses more on how much she is struggling, rather than acknowledging and validating her kid’s emotions. I suppose the takeaway in these unsatisfying “resolutions” might be that family dynamics are complicated, and that sometimes complex family conflicts aren’t resolved in a satisfying way. But still, these underwhelming resolutions – and really, the book as a whole – left me wanting more conclusiveness.

Also, as other reviewers have mentioned, there were too many main characters in this novel. There were 7 different perspectives being followed throughout the story: the Sorenson parents, their four daughters, and a daughter’s once-secret son. While I appreciated seeing the intricate family dynamic from so many different angles, I also thought that some of the character development suffered from the author trying to do too much. Specifically, the two youngest daughters of the family, Liza and Grace, and the no-longer-secret son, Jonah, all seemed underdeveloped to me. It was especially disappointing that Jonah was an underdeveloped character, because as an outsider to the Sorenson family in many ways, he is able to provide a fresh perspective on their strange dynamic, as well as their wealth and privilege. In my opinion, the entire story could have been told from the perspective of three or four main characters – with one of those perspectives being Jonah’s – and nothing substantial would have been lost.

This review is actually turning out to be more negative than I had intended. Overall, I thought The Most Fun We Ever Had was an enjoyable and entertaining read. But given the book’s length and scope, I expected more from it! And speaking of the book’s length, I didn’t explicitly address this yet, but the book could have been at least 120 pages shorter. Anyway, I recommend this book for a fun read, but I don’t quite see it as a contender for the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist.

Side notes:

  1. Minor spoiler alert, but this book had WAY too many scenes where characters get caught/watched having sex (or foreplay that is going to lead to sex). And, yes, there was more than one scene like that!
  2. I’m surprised by how many of the WP longlist books feature “rich people problems” – this is the third book I’ve read from the longlist to do so.

Author: Hannah Celeste

Hi! I'm Hannah, a book-blogger from the Northeastern United States. I enjoy reading many genres, cooking and baking, doing yoga, and spending time with my two cats.

25 thoughts on “Book Review: The Most Fun We Ever Had”

  1. Great review! I felt much the same about this one. It should either have been considerably shorter and/or packed more (clearer) underlying themes/messages into the story. I found the book easy to read but ultimately a lot less satisfying than it could have been!

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  2. Great review, I also found the shifting timelines jarring towards the end, especially when the momentum of something interesting was abruptly cut off by some unnecessary backstory. (Especially when David had a heart attack—I was just skipping all the filler chapters by then!) And this really is too specific; I don’t understand what it can say beyond the condition of their family. Glad you found it readable, though. 🙂

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    1. “Filler” is a perfect way to describe what the backstory chapters ultimately became (and AT LEAST what, like, 120 pages of this book ended up being). So disappointing! I’m looking forward to your full review; from your weekly wrap-up, I’m suspecting you liked it even less than I did hahah.

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  3. I enjoyed this book, but found your review really insightful on some of the parts that didn’t work so well. I agree it was overlong – I read this on my Kindle, so didn’t quite grasp the vastness of it until it was too late to stop! What I did enjoy was that it makes no claims to universality – very much rich white people problems and very specific to their complex dynamic – but I thought that actually worked quite well in terms of throwing a magnifying glass on one specific family and exploring that in intricate – sometimes overly so – detail. Hope your next read is more of an enjoyable one!

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    1. Thanks Rose, I’m glad you enjoyed this novel! I agree that this book did a great job portraying a family in all of its complexity. I felt like I had an intimate understanding of certain characters by the end, which is certainly impressive on the author’s part.

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  4. “An endorsement for living honestly and authentically” seems like just the kind of book people would be excited to read right now, as the pandemic is making people reassess what matters to them and why. However, even if the characters lived a more authentic experience, they still wouldn’t match up because they’re wealthy. I hadn’t realized so many of the Women’s Prize novels were about upper class families. I’m currently reading The Wangs vs. The World, and even though they’ve lost everything in the beginning of the book, they’re unrelatable in their way of thinking, too.

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    1. Yes, that is so true! I didn’t touch on the wealth/privilege issues with this book as much as I would have liked to in this review. I thought the book provided some interesting commentary on the family’s privilege (and odd denial/defensiveness toward their privilege), but not as much as it could have. The Wangs vs. The World sounds interesting, I’ll look out for your review!

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  5. Hannah, I so appreciate you doing the heavy lifting in working your way through the WFP longlist for us, truly! I’m not familiar with this author, but from your review I suspect she’s had multiple well-regarded books published — because it doesn’t sound like this one would have fared well as a debut. However, I’ll reserve judgment until I read it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Jan! I might have been a bit harsh in my review, because I was frustrated with the book when I finished it – there are a lot of good things about it too, and it does tell an interesting story (and the average review on Goodreads is above 4 stars, so it seems most people liked it a lot).

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  6. I’m reading this now and I’m enjoying it in the same way I enjoy soap operas but I’m not entirely sure what it’s doing on the longlist – it doesn’t seem to have any real thematic heft. And I definitely agree that there are too many POVs bogging it down.

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