The outside world barely enters into the cosseted lives of the Sorensons ... Of course it’s not the responsibility of every novel to wrestle with cultural shifts, with politics and war, but the near total absence of even a whiff of non-Sorenson-related events over 40 years and 500-plus pages must be a conscious choice. It reads, eventually, as a deliberate and fascinating commentary on how a particular kind of moneyed white family can choose the degree to which they engage with such … unpleasantries. And that sometimes they choose zero degrees ... At this point you may be thinking that there’s no way four women can spend an entire book being obsessed with their happily married parents ... But here’s the thing — Lombardo renders that obsession with such skill and finely tuned interest that it feels like a quiet subversion of the traditional family saga, a new way for the past to bless or poison the present and an unexpected engine for the revelations about being human that she delivers so beautifully.
... an assured first novel ... The fun—well, that’s in the reading of the novel, which nicely blends comedy with pathos and the sharp- with the soft-edged ... the strength of the book is in its unsentimental limning of the past, of dinner-table conversations, pillow talk, sisterly intrigues and alliances, of creaking floors and sheltering trees, of petty resentments and small rapprochements ... The Most Fun We Ever Had is long—really, a bit too long. The plot lines and complications are many—perhaps a bit too many. The cast is large (see above). But Ms. Lombardo manages to keep all the balls in the air.
This is a conventional novel, but an expertly rendered one, with the multiple ugly tensions between Violet and Wendy in particular providing a ghoulishly dysfunctional sideshow to their parents’ loved-up spectacle. There is, however, just the faintest irksome hint of smugness in Lombardo’s authorial tone, as though she sides a little too much with characters whose privilege will, in the end, see them through.
... a wonderfully immersive read that packs more heart and heft than most first novels ... notably apolitical, all-white, all-straight ... Lombardo's sweeping family drama, fueled by power plays between spouses and between sisters, is operatic in both good ways and bad. It hits plenty of high notes, but like opera, it runs long and tends toward histrionics and repetition. A few themes are replayed so often...that the book would have benefited from judicious trims, particularly in the flashbacks ... But let's not lose sight of Lombardo's considerable achievement. The Most Fun We Ever Had is a deliciously absorbing novel with — brace yourself — a tender and satisfyingly positive take on family.
If ever there were to be a literary love child of Jonathan Franzen and Anne Tyler, then Claire Lombardo’s outstanding debut, which ranges from ebullience to despair by way of caustic but intense familial bonds, would be a worthy offspring ... Lombardo has a keen eye and ear for dysfunctional family dynamics: sibling rivalry, marital disquiet, parental guilt. This is a novel epic in scope – emotionally, psychologically and narratively. Combining a broad thematic canvas with impressive emotional nuance, it’s an assured and highly enjoyable debut.
That is how straightforward and realistic Lombardo’s depiction of her characters is—you could eavesdrop on them or look into their windows, and this is, in many ways, Lombardo’s singular achievement in her debut novel. Her depiction of how her characters talk, how they relate, how they form their family is so precise that you must believe in them, and you must also be interested in them ... Lombardo’s sense of drama is evocative and riveting. When she means to shock or frighten the reader, she does ... But the downside of one crisis after another is that the reader might recoil from the onslaught—there never seems to be a time, over 40 years or so, when life just moves along in a relaxing and ordinary way ... A novel has to have a plot and a few mysteries the narrative must build toward. Lombardo’s are mysteries of character ... The Most Fun We Ever Had is an ambitious and brilliantly written first novel, sometimes amusing and sometimes shocking, but its unrelenting nature and lack of context is ultimately off-putting.
Sometimes you’re too close to something to see it for what it really is, which is what Lombardo spells out in her expansive narrative ... Lombardo’s debut novel portrays a family in all of its interconnectedness, messiness, mistakes, regrets, happiness, and love ... It is rather difficult to move between decades, characters, and storylines for 400 pages and keep your reader engaged, however, not with the Sorensons. By the end of the novel, you will wonder what comes next for the sisters and their loved ones. You’ll feel a part of the family in a way you can’t even feel in your own, not as easily at least.
The story develops over these decades in a non-chronological fashion, through time shifts that are occasionally jarring and sometimes used as a device to make the novel appear more complicated and suspenseful than necessary. Ms. Lombardo is a talented writer who has created a believable, multifaceted family and has also provided readers with enough bona fide plot twists to keep them turning pages. A more linear narrative, or at least longer pauses between time jumps, would have enhanced the experience ... Although traversing some similar territory, Ms. Lombard does not write in the style of Anne Tyler and the Sorensons are definitely not the Waltons. The dialogue is often profanely humorous and sexually frank ... Ms. Lombardo unabashedly votes for the family as the final arbiters of normalcy. If you love and support each other enough, then any other definition of normal becomes irrelevant.
In her tender debut novel...Claire Lombardo mounts a convincing challenge to Leo Tolstoy’s famous line, depicting a happy family that is inarguably unique. The Sorensons are affluent, white and suburban — the starting point for a certain kind of literary family saga — and their relative lack of misery almost feels like a daring twist ... The novel alternates between seven points of view...and encompasses decades of family drama. This is a lot of ground to cover, and while it’s all enjoyable, The Most Fun We Ever Had seems longer than necessary, some of its storylines expanding the book’s surface area without adding much depth ... Still, it’s a pleasure spending time with the Sorensons ... Lombardo explores parenthood and resentment, sisterhood and deception, revealing the grace and grit and hard work that go into making a happy family happy.
This is a large, slow novel – long conversations are played out in full, character motivations are carefully explained, and we see multiple perspectives on the same situations, particularly as the past timeline catches up with the present – but the lucid, unobtrusive prose keeps the pages turning. Though the book makes frequent reference to its Chicago setting and marks out the years explicitly, one feels the Sorensons could almost live anywhere, at any time: their universe consists almost exclusively of each other, governed above all else by their interpersonal dynamics.
... a soap opera for the literary set ... it's also all stuff we've seen before. However, thanks to Lombardo's sensitive probing of her characters' emotional upheavals and cerebral musings, as opposed to their scandalous behavior or fate's cruel machinations, The Most Fun We Ever Had (improbably) distinguishes itself ... this book cries out for judicious editing, the kind that would maintain the author's more-or-less equal distribution of trials and tribulations among her protagonists, but lessen the overall load with which each is saddled ... while admittedly taxing your patience every now and again, brims with emotional intelligence and poignant insight. Lombardo has written a soap opera, yes, yet one layered with searching explorations of its characters' interiority. The undertaking is also suggestive of a conscious effort to endow the often dismissed genre of domestic drama with some heft, something the author achieves handily.
Though it resembles other sprawling midwestern family dramas, like Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections (2001), Lombardo’s book steers clear of social critique and burrows into the drama of familial relationships. The result is an affectionate, sharp, and eminently readable exploration of the challenges of love in its many forms.
Unfortunately, the author's attempt to flesh out [various] tropes makes the story bloated and overstuffed ... While this reviewer thinks the novel would have benefited from fewer characters and a tighter plot, readers of women's fiction and multigenerational family stories may delight in the episodic approach.
Lombardo captures the complexity of a large family with characters who light up the page with their competition, secrets, and worries. Despite its length and number of plotlines, the momentum never flags, making for a rich and rewarding family saga.
...a sharp, sly family story of feminine guile and guilt ... a story bristling with a particular kind of female intel ... The writing here is silky, if occasionally overwrought. Still, the deft touches...delight. The class calibrations are divine even as the utter apolitical whiteness of the Sorenson world becomes hard to fathom. Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet another pleasurable tendril of sisterly malice uncurls.