I read both of these books on my cruise, and what they have in common is that both are about families really struggling with Issues. Both books also follow one family over a long period of time. Other than those two things, they are very different books.
Carry the One by Carol Anshaw
Published by Simon & Schuster
This novel begins with a wedding and quickly gets to the point – a car filled with a few drunk and stoned wedding guests accidentally hits and kills a girl. We then follow three siblings – Carmen (whose wedding was being celebrated that night), Nick, and Alice – for the next twenty-five years, as their lives slowly unravel, and in some cases, are put back together in a way.
The thing about it is that the three siblings used the accident as a catalyst for all kinds of things – Nick to spiral out of control with his addiction, Alice to get romantically involved with a woman who was also in the car, Carmen to become an activist for women’s rights – but I think their lives wouldn’t have been that different without the accident. It was almost as though some of them used it as an excuse. Nick was already on drugs before the accident and most certainly would have gone deeper into his addiction either way, Alice was already gay but wasn’t allowing herself to admit it yet, and Carmen simply found something she could believe in, which probably would have happened eventually anyway.
That kind of sounds like I didn’t like the book, when in reality I really did. But I can’t say I liked any of the characters, which is okay in a well-written, interesting and layered novel – which Carry the One certainly is. This was definitely a book I raced through, hoping against hope that someone in this family would turn out all right in the end. Overall, I really enjoyed the reading experience even though I kind of hated all three of these siblings.
The Condition by Jennifer Haigh
Published by HarperTorch
The Condition introduces the reader to the McKotch family – Paulette, her husband Frank, their sons Billy and Scott, and their daughter, Gwen. The book begins in the 1970’s when the family learns that thirteen-year-old Gwen has Turner’s syndrome, and follows this family for more than twenty years after the diagnosis.
I love Haigh’s writing so I’m always excited to pick up one of her books, and this was no exception. I also have a love for family sagas, so I thought this would be a for sure favorite of mine. I did like the book, a lot, but as in the previous book I spoke about, the individual characters were SO unlikable that it was difficult for me to say I loved the book. What’s so interesting about this family is that they are all supposedly so affected by Gwen’s diagnosis, but she really couldn’t care less about it. She builds her own life in her own way and is happy doing so, but the rest of her family can’t seem to get that she’s perfectly OK the way she is. Honestly, it annoyed me – she was the sanest, most clear-headed, most normal of all of them – yet she was the one that had something “wrong” with her!
As in Carry the One, it seemed like in The Condition, the characters used this singular thing – Gwen’s diagnosis – almost as an excuse for a lot of bad choices and wrong turns in their lives, when in actuality they probably would have ended up not all that different had she not been diagnosed with Turner’s. Ultimately, I really liked this book even though I wanted to punch most of the characters in the throat (except for Gwen – I liked Gwen).
I think because I read these books back to back, they seem very similar to me, when in truth they are very different books. While they are both very character-driven and well-written, Carry the One is a quicker read while The Condition is deeper, more literary (even though I hate that word, I’m not sure what other word I can use in its place). I recommend them both but I don’t recommend reading them back to back! If I had to pick just one to recommend, I think The Condition comes out just a bit ahead.