I received my first writing credit in Oak Park in 1993, in my family’s home on Iowa Street, where I wrote and published my own newspaper, called The Big Stuff. It chronicled a series of hard-hitting news items, such as my father’s affinity for Cheerios, fake interviews with the Clintons, and weeks-late announcements of Bulls game scores.
Fast-forward about 28 years — after decades of Oak Park public schooling and endless trips to the Oak Park Public Library — and I’m thrilled to be returning to my hometown to celebrate the release of my debut novel, The Most Fun We Ever Had, forthcoming from Knopf/Doubleday on June 25.
The Most Fun We Ever Had chronicles the nearly-half-century evolution of a single-family, madly-in-love married couple, David and Marilyn Sorenson, and their four complicated daughters. In the 1970s, David and Marilyn, students at UIC, meet in the Behavioral Sciences Building and fall quickly, deeply in love.
By 2016, each daughter is in a state of existential unrest. Eldest child Wendy has endured a fair amount of hardship and drowns her sorrows in alcohol and the company of much-younger men; her Irish twin, Violet, finds her picture-perfect suburban life in Evanston starting to erode when a dark part of her past resurfaces; Liza, a psychology professor, is thinking about ending her dead-end relationship with a depressive video-game addict until she finds herself pregnant; and Grace, a recent college graduate, weaves a series of law school rejections into a harmful and ever-growing lie.
The lives of the Sorensons are thrown into relief by the arrival of an orphaned teenage boy, Jonah, who’s fallen through the cracks of the child welfare system. Throughout the entire trajectory of this family’s unfolding, each daughter is haunted by a common worry — they’ll never find the lasting, apocalyptic love their parents have for each other.
In many ways, this novel is a love story to the Midwest. Marilyn is raised in Oak Park and David in Albany Park; they marry, and after a stint in Iowa City while David is in medical school, they return to Oak Park, where they raise their children — children who fan off to different parts of the country but ultimately return to the Chicago area: Hyde Park and the North Shore and Greektown. Above all else, the book was inspired by my fascination with people, my innate and lifelong observational tendencies that inspired me to publish a newspaper at the wizened age of 5.
In The Most Fun We Ever Had, we follow the Sorensons through the most significant moments in life — births, deaths, weddings — but also the most overlooked, unspoken rivalries, spells of self-doubt, idle expressions of affection. I believe unbendingly that everyone has an interesting life, and that even — indeed, especially — the quietest stories are worth telling.
This book took more than five years to write and edit. It was over 900 pages long at its peak, whittled down to its current 544. I’ve gone through dozens of drafts and thousands of Post-It notes and at least 10 green ink pens, killed a fair amount of darlings and cut a heartbreaking number of jokes that only I thought were funny.
But it exists, in material form, and I can’t help but think that my upbringing is in part responsible — my parents, who surrounded me with books and stories; my teachers at Holmes, Brooks and OPRF who fostered my love of words; and spaces like the public library and the Book Table that gave me outlets to explore the art and craft of fiction writing.
I can’t wait for The Most Fun We Ever Had to make its way onto the library and bookstore shelves I scoured as a young writer. I currently live in Iowa City, where I recently graduated from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and now teach undergraduate fiction writing at the University of Iowa. I’m excited beyond words to be returning home to promote this book.
See Claire Lombardo at a live taping of WTTW’s “The Interview Show” with Oak Parker Mark Bazer on Friday, June 7, 6:30 p.m., The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, Chicago, 21+, $15. Tickets/more: theinterviewshowchicago.com/see-the-show-live. Pre-orders of “The Most Fun We Ever Had” available from The Book Table.