Talented debut novelist Claire Lombardo is breaking onto the scene this summer with her highly anticipated book The Most Fun We Ever Had. We were anxious to get to know the author and learn about her touching novel, so we asked Claire some of our burning questions. Learn more about Claire Lombardo in this interview and get your copy of The Most Fun We Ever Had now.
What was the inspiration behind The Most Fun We Ever Had?
My list of inspirations for this book was ever-shifting and ever-growing, but at the core, I was driven by my obsession with human dynamics. I really wanted to create a fly-on-the-wall sensation for readers, the sense that they existed in this house with this family, privy not only to their secrets and scandals but to their quieter moments as well. I did social work for several years before I started writing this book, and that absolutely fueled my desire to delve deep into the lives of my characters.
I also come from a big family, and while the Sorensons are by no means based on my family, I was certainly inspired by my fascination with family dynamics. Anyone who knows me knows I love talking about family drama – my own or otherwise. It’s the gift that keeps on giving…
If you had to choose three to five of your favorite books of all time, what would they be and why?
Oh! The hardest question! I’m going to just go knee-jerk and include the caveat that there are many books I’m leaving out. But:
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides is a book I read about once a year, except lately, because I knew if I read it while writing my own book I would fall into an “I’ll never be as good!” pit of despair. I love everything about the book – its scope, its deep characterization, the way it places individual human dramas against a vivid historical backdrop, the way some individual scenes will stick with me always. It’s a book about which I take the stance “you can’t be my friend unless you’ve read this.”
The Collected Stories of Alice Munro. Speaking of “I’ll never be as good,” Munro is – everything? There is nothing comparable for me to the experience of reading her stories. They’re like little novels, complete, intricate worlds that blow you away upon first reading and then continue to accrue meaning with subsequent re-reads.
Birds of America by Lorrie Moore. Moore was one of the first “adult” writers I was introduced to – by my older sister Erin, when I was about 14 – and she’s been a source of inspiration for me as both a writer and a reader ever since. Her work is what I turn to when I want to remember why I write. There’s nobody who’s better at balancing levity and darkness, at really embracing that space on the continuum where nothing is strictly comic or tragic. Her stories are laugh-out-loud funny but also full of deep feeling, and that’s a balance I’m constantly striving for in my own writing. I teach one of the stories from Birds of America – “People Like That Are the Only People Here” – every semester, and it always startles my students a bit, before they’ve read it, when I preface the story with, “It’s about a baby with cancer! But I promise you will laugh your ass off!”
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve read this book – the first time I was about 16, and I remember finishing the book and then immediately starting it over again. It’s deeply satisfying on a storytelling level – the deep POV, the spot-on characterization, the three-dimensional world-building – and also expertly structured and brilliantly plotted. It’s a book that I admire unendingly as both a reader and a writer, and one I reference at least once a week because it speaks so truthfully about the human experience.
The Collected Stories of John Cheever. Cheever’s stories have everything I love most in fiction: quiet domestic drama, ostensible plotlessness that proves to be anything but, deep interiority, vividly staged scenes. And they feel as fully relevant today as I’m sure they did 50 years ago.
Which authors do you admire most?
In addition to the authors of the books I just mentioned, I’ll add Shirley Jackson (whose memoir on motherhood, Life Among the Savages, was a book I returned to repeatedly while writing The Most Fun We Ever Had), Donna Tartt, Alice McDermott, Charles Baxter, Maria Semple, William Trevor. The list goes on and on.
I also had the good fortune of studying with some writers I love when I was in grad school – notably, Ethan Canin, Margot Livesey, Charlie D’Ambrosio and Allan Gurganus. And in them I found kind of the perfect trifecta – I loved their fiction already and then – imagine! – they turned out to be lovely and generous people as well as writers and then they shared so much with me on a craft level.
What are you hoping your readers take away from your debut novel?
I’m hoping there will be some sense of recognition for readers – one of the great pleasures of reading, for me, is that feeling of accompaniment, of feeling seen. I love nothing more than being able to relate to a character, or watch her make a decision and think, “I would’ve done the same thing.” As a reader, I love fiction that’s rooted in empathy, and I hope readers of The Most Fun We Ever Had feel like I’ve done the characters justice.
Which books are you most looking forward to reading next?
Right now I’m in the middle of – and heartily enjoying – both My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley and Summerlings by Lisa Howorth, which comes out in August. I’ve also been chipping away at Middlemarch for about two years – no fault of the book; I’m just a slow reader. I believe I am currently on page seven.