Definitely Not the Most Fun I've Ever Had

The impactful themes get lost in this overly complicated storytelling

This epic story of family spans multiple decades to tell the story of the Sorenson family. From the time that Marilyn and David fall in love in college through the childhood of their four daughters. It culminates in the daughters' adulthood as the four radically different women each struggle with their own state of unrest.

As a woman living in Chicago, I am usually all here for the story of Chicago women facing their struggles and leveraging the love of their family to bring them through it. However, even after reading this book I'm not sure that I could tell you what theme really was. Instead I am only left with the very clear opinion that they all need individual and probably also family counseling from a professional. I usually appreciate a complicated and realistically dysfunctional family, however this hefty tome was still trying to accomplish too much and falling flat.

The lack of consistent story and meaning are underscored by the overall difficulty to understand the writing. The story starts by dropping you into a family drama without context. Characters are only described by each other which played nicely with the theme of only understanding people from the perspectives of each other.

Grace smiled, listening to this boy construct her sister from memory—not necessarily Wendy as she really was, but Wendy as Grace had relayed her: the only portrait you could ever get, really, of one sister from another, tinged inevitably with jealousy and double standards and affection as deep and intractable as marrow.

However, it fell flat when you didn't have original context of who the characters were or why the opening scene would mean anything to them. It's not a great start. Adding the confusing switches in timeline and POV Lombardo is asking the reader to keep up with a lot of things. Instead of an epic family saga that was advertised it felt like a upper middle class family drama.

Wendy and Jonah were the most interesting characters in this incredibly character driven drama. Liza and Grace really felt like afterthoughts. The story would have been more impactful by focusing on the dichotomy between Wendy and Violet and how Marilyn and David's single focus on their love for each other left their daughters emotionally stunted.

These impactful themes of the way that we understand each other (or rather don't) and how parenting manifests in their adult children instead get lost in the languishing plot.

Overall, I liked this book. It was "just fine". I didn't resent the epic length, but I was left feeling that underwhelmed by the character growth and plot. This is one of the few books that I've ever read where I feel like the TV or film adaptation would actually be better than the book.