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3.9 out of 5 stars
The Condition (P.S.)
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51 of 54 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I thought of how much my sons' childhood differs from mine. I thought back to a time and then came back to this time. That emotion, that knowing that comes from surveying the life of a person and of a family--that is what Ms. Haigh does with much skill in this tale of a family.

Little Gwen has a "condition" called Turner's Syndrome and as a physician I was impressed by the accuracy of the facts presented and the skill of their weaving, but you can have that from any medical book (the facts about Turner's). What came more skillfully and with more value while reading is Haigh's ability to flash forward and flash backward to show the condition of each person, of the family, and of the plight of walking around on this planet.

I knew I would see a mature and fresh view when I read these two paragraph's early in the book:

Anne lit another cigarett, "it's awful. I have this beautiful daughter, and my whole body is sagging by the minute, I feel like a shriveled old hag."

(Years later Paulete would marvel at the memory: how old they'd felt at thirty-five, how finished and depleted. "We were still young and beautiful," she would realize far too late.)

Somewhere, an ancient scripture teaches to count our days for we are like a puff of smoke here today and gone tomorrow. Though a saga that shouts our days are not infinite may feel heavy--such a saga gave me a reminder to close the book and get up and live my life. I fellow could gather much less from a novel.

Having worked as an ER physician and witnessed hundreds of deaths, I have an appreciation for the brevity of life that keeps me focused on the value of a day. I'm not sure where Ms. Haigh learned that lesson but she teaches it with skill in this story of pain and beauty, sickness and health, love and betrayal.

This excellent read will make you want to kiss your wife, hug your child, and walk out side and inhale as much air as your lungs will hold.
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70 of 77 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
As a woman with turner syndrome and as a librarian, I found this book to be extremely well written and researched. The author gets the details about turner syndrome right without failing to make the character Gwen fully human. She is neither overly sympathetically portrayed, or used as a foil for the other characters. Some curious readers may find themselves running to Wikipedia to find out more details about the biology referenced in the story (phenotype, knockout mice?) but this doesn't distract from the main story and adds interest. This isn't a book about turner syndrome; it's about the Human Condition (as the jacket blurb says) that we all have. I would heartily recommend "The Condition" to anyone interested in an engaging, realistic read.
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50 of 56 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 20, 2008
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I got this book through the VINE program. Read the book in two sittings. The characters are past believable... they are PAINFULLY believable!!! I imagine anyone with extended family dynamics will find someone aptly described in this novel. Ms. Haigh intricately describes each characters weaknesses and foibles, yet keeps them endearing - a hard task indeed, but essential to keep our interest up until the end.

I was content that all the story lines I cared about were tied up and I was even happy with how she ended them. I though the balance between plot and character development was excellent.

If possible, I would avoid reading reviews with spoilers on this one - this story flows well and it would be a shame to waste such good writing by already knowing what was coming...

I wholeheartedly recommend this book - just make sure you have some time free when you start reading it - you're not going to want to put it down!

All the best,

Jay
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 29, 2008
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
After reading BAKER'S TOWERS a few years ago and hearing such wonderful things about MRS KIMBLE, I couldn't wait for the latest release from Jennifer Haigh. The story sounded promising and I was anxious to dig my teeth into it. Sadly, the story never really seemed to grab me until nearly the end, and then it was too late -- the book/story ended. If the first 3/4 of the book had captured my attention as much as the last 1/4 did, I would have called this a success, but sadly it just didn't do it for me.

I wanted to love these characters, especially Gwen, but there was something that left me feeling detached. Like the walls they had built in their lives carried into the story leaving readers feeling left out. It was if the characters didn't WANT you to get to know them or cheer them on. It was hard to feel anything about any of them.

It is beautifully written, but at times I felt like the chapters/pages were never-ending. I found myself skimming the pages, looking for highlights, just to get to the next chapter. I don't do that too often -- a story has to move pretty slow for me to do this, and unfortunately, that's how I found THE CONDITION.

I liked the various meanings of the title -- It could really apply to any of the main characters, altho readers (and members of the McKotch family) are led to believe that the "condition" refers to Gwen's Turner's Syndrome, when in reality, each member of the family has his or her own "condition" to deal with.

I really liked Baker's Towers and maybe I was expecting a similarly told story, but for some reason I never connected with the McKotch family. I thought the last few chapters were GREAT and wish that some of these things had been told near the beginning of the book, with flashbacks telling the story. Perhaps that would have moved along at a better pace, knowing how it all turns out. I just found the journey of the McKotch family to be boring and didn't really care about it. I also found the family's resolve near the end of the book a little too rushed and disbelieving -- it seemed to happen to easily, like they all woke up one day and decided to accept one another. Not exactly how it happens in real life.

Sorry -- not one of my favorites, altho I would like to read more from Jennifer Haigh as she is truly a talented writer.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Some novels are merely entertaining, others teach you about other places and other times, and some very special ones teach you deeply about yourself. Jennifer Haigh's "The Condition" is one of those. I've encountered novels of penetrating vision into the life and deepest psychological mindset of a character a handful of times - and they have been transformative moments in my life (like the time when, deeply depressed, I found myself recognizing Anna Karenina's suicidal anguish with an almost physical shock. Like encounter therapy, Tolstoy's deep insight into human suffering taught me that I was not alone in my anguish and that knowledge may have saved my life.) I had several such encounters with vital human wisdom in ways that have moved and transformed me in reading "The Condition". If I could give this novel six stars I certainly would.

It's almost impossible to discuss the plotting of this novel without spoilers because some of the character's primary issues are discovered as startling revelations. I don't want to spoil those revelations so I'm going to use a broad brush. Suffice it to say that this is a book about a family that falls apart. The fact that a daughter has a medical condition is but one of an array of everyday challenges. It's a mistake to think that this is a medical drama in any way. The "condition" of Gwen is hardly the most debilitating affliction going on here. The father, Frank is career obsessed and often absent; the mother, Paulette, is prudish, controlling, and insecure; the two sons Billy and Scott each have significant challenges (no spoilers - you need to discover them as part of the narrative); and Gwen has Turners. Like a lot of families they aren't very good at communicating and they grow apart and deal with their issues without a lot of mutual support. The way these challenges manifest themselves in the lives of the characters - their romantic connections and careers - is where the wisdom by example lies. I kept seeing aspects of my choices in their choices.

"The Condition" initially is structured with several long sections that each feel like freestanding brilliant short stories - separate but related because the characters are all in the same family. Each section centers on a character and consists mainly of character exposition, rather than narrative movement. Haigh writes in a guileless, almost artifice free way - but her content is utterly astounding in the way she perfectly captures the interior and exterior world of these normal, middle class American white people. She delves deeply into each character, and her ability to lead us to inhabit each very different life is so brilliant that I actually resented it when, towards the middle of the book, the narrative flow began to take over from character exposition as the the primary thrust of the novel. We get to see how their choices and issues lead them into troubles of various sorts - and they don't avail themselves of help from their family. Their emotional distance and growth away from one another will be familiar to many. Rapidly, these narrative complications become complexly interlocking in a mesmerizing way. The way the details of the plot unfold and the different narrative lines align and move towards each other relentlessly is extraordinarily crafted. The sense of verisimilitude never wavers. It always feels utterly real even as the complications pile up. Each chapter has its own structure and emotionally gut sucking ending too, but together they build and build.

In the last few dozen pages towards the end the revelations and growth that transform each and every character take on an aching emotional quality that qualifies this as a tear jerker. But while other great tear jerkers like "Terms of Endearment" are about death and grief, this one is about life and love. You don't cry because of loss - but because of what is gained. These characters that you've come to know and care about and whose mistakes you've witnessed and whose bad choices you've suffered through finally come to a place of some honesty and love and it's deeply gratifying. If you know some broken people, some dysfunctional families or some people who run from pain in their lives this book has something to teach you. Highest recommendation.

p.s. Reading over the previous reviews I can see that many people are annoyed by the mother, Paulette. She is, certainly, the least sympathetic character in the book and I wonder if part of the reason why I loved this so much is that I related to the sons or the husband and not the mother. As a man - this books depiction of various problematic marriages was instructive because it allowed me to see the woman's side of those scenes so clearly. If I were an older mother I might identify with Paulette instead - and I could see how that might be insulting. I wouldn't dock too many points from this book for this reason. While this book might feel like a mirror, at times - it isn't. Some others seem to feel that there are too many broken characters in one family to be realistic. I guess they are just lucky. Some question and others praise the depiction of Turner's syndrome. I guess that's important to some people who want Gwen to be a flag bearer for a real condition. I just viewed Gwen's condition as another one of those life challenges to be dealt with - and didn't worry about how accurately the syndrome was being represented (and couldn't say as I don't know). I just went with it and LOVED this book.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Turner Syndrome is the most obvious condition in Jennifer Haigh's latest offering however the overall condition of the McKotch family unit is so complex it almost defies description.

If you looked up the word dysfunctional in Webster's dictionary, there is a good chance you would find a picture of the McKotch family. Paulette, the mother, displays signs of insecurity, galloping paranoia, is deceitful and controlling, but at the same time emotionally needy. She is definitely my least favorite character in this book. Frank, the father, is portrayed as a man obsessed with his scientific career but is observant enough to see that his daughter, Gwen, is not developing physically as she should and is accepting enough to pursue treatment for her "condition". Each parent is absorbed in their own ritualistic lives and neither seems to possess the capacity for the unconditional love each of their children crave.

The children Billy, Scott and Gwen are the casualties of their parent's relationship and could be poster children for any number of physical, mental and emotional afflictions.

Covering the course of twenty-some years in the lives of these five and literally running the gamut of self-obsessive behavior, The Condition leaves its readers happy to rid themselves of any further contact with the maladjusted McKotch clan. 2 1/2 STARS
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The Condition

Jennifer Haigh has once again created a splendid tale in The Condition. My last four hours between these covers were straight-through as I blew out my daily routine (lying between the covers, as it happens). The cats would have to wait for breakfast. Unanswered e-mails and voicemail could go hang.

The story is that of a not untypical upper middle class family in suburban Boston, the wife's side slowly spiraling down from wealth, the husband striving mightily upward--for glory if not money. The three children veer: the oldest a workaholic, the youngest an escapist, and the middle child confronted by and confronting The Condition. Her condition, called Turner's syndrome, involves complete or partial absence of the second sex chromosome which results in short stature along with absence of reproductive capability and other hormonally driven gender differences. The medical condition is rich with metaphorical possibilities and Haigh works them into her narrative seamlessly and beautifully.

The chapters rotate between each of the five family members, reflecting their different viewpoints of past events and culminating in the autumn of 2001. Haigh does well at revealing the very different motives and drives of each of the characters, at pulling the reader into caring deeply what happens to her cast, particularly the afflicted child. There are entirely believable surprises and an intriguing tension as the story winds down (hence my read-a-thon for the last half.)

The principal flaw in the book is minor, but telling. Haigh twice describes fish on a reef near a West Indies island as "cichlids." Cichlids are freshwater fish (with a few species adapted to brackish water in the near vicinity of mainland rivers and salt marshes.) She clearly is neither a diver nor an aquarist, but she really ought to have done her homework somewhere other than a local pet store.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2008
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
The first 50 pages of this book are brilliant. We are introduced to all the members of a Massachusetts family during their traditional summer holiday on the Cape. The characters are beautifully drawn, the tension between the husband and wife palpable. The reader just knows that something is going to happen to turn this family's world upside down. During this part of the book, Haigh also captures pitch perfect the sensibilities of a time that while not so long ago when measured in actual years, already seems like ancient history.
But after this marvelous start, the book just lumbers along, with very little plot, and at best, mild suspense. Will the gay brother gain the courage to live openly and honestly, will the screwed up brother ever get his act together, will the sister with a genetic disorder ever find the courage to climb out from beneath the weight of her family's well-intentioned but crippling protectiveness. Given the magnitude of each character's problems, I was surprised at how little their dilemmas engaged me emotionally - with the one exception of the screwed up brother, Scott. Haigh clearly had a ball writing about him, some of the scenes about his life are laugh out loud funny, and yet at the same time, intensely poignant.
The most annoying thing about the book was the absurdly neat and unconvincing ending. Why did the author feel compelled to give every character a happy ending (or cure for their condition) no matter how contrived and implausible. They were such obvious manipulations that this reader couldn't forget for a minute that she was reading fiction, instead of getting a glimpse into real peoples' lives. The ending seemed more worthy of a tv melodrama than a work of literary fiction.
A fast, pleasant read but one that will be quickly forgotten, this book is no where near as strong as Haigh's first two, which stayed with this reader long after she had finished them.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2008
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I am a woman with TS so knew I had to read this book when I discovered that one of the main characters, Gwen, has Turners.

From the very beginning I found myself amazed at how accurately Gwen is drawn. TS brings with it certain physical characteristics, but there are emotional complexities that come along with it as well. All of these are explored beautifully and it is a bonus that Gwen's story ends up as it does.

However, the book turned out to be much more than I expected. It is to Jennifer Haigh's credit that I cared about the rest of the family as much as I cared about Gwen.

Highly recommended and big thank you to Jennifer Haigh from all of us TS women.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Visiting my daughter, a creative writing major at U Maine Farmington, I picked up this book over the long weekend visit; assigned reading for her course.

Familiar to the Massachusetts landscape of Wellesley College, Cape Cod, MIT, Harvard, Boston, etc. its settings were comfortable. I had never heard of Jennifer Haigh or the condition called "Turner's Syndrome," seemingly the last straw--so to speak--that broke the family's marriage and began the book's odyssey as it follows the tracks of Billy, (the older brother who is gay), Scott, (the youngest who just doesn't care), Gwen, (the non-demonstrative girl with Turner's), Frank, (the dad who seems to be the character with whom Ms Haigh finds the most affinity); ie: she transmits that to the reader, and Paulette, the inflexible, "That's the way it was done in my family for generations so it has to be right," mother from whom Frank is divorced.

So there you have it. Throughout the book we follow the lives of each player, their day to day relationships, jobs and, once or twice a year--if that--their relationships to one another. The only character with whom the reader feels an affinity is Frank. We like him. He confronts Gwen's differences, examines, explores. He's virile, sensual, a woman's man.

His wife may be inflexible, narrow, but we feel no affinity for her. I would like it if Ms Haigh could have, somehow, brought us under Paulette's skin to perceive why she felt the way she did. At the beginning we understand that Paulette perceives her husband's elaborate gifts as, "less for her than for himself," and in his sexual advances with little overture he is self-absorbed and she is left cold. Her reactions are understandable, but we need more.

Far be it from anyone to find fault in a 400 page book that drew together the lives of five people over decades, but I would like to have seen each of their worlds from the inside out rather than being an observer. What were their inner worlds, their thoughts, emotions, sexual longings, unfulfilled dreams and what is the ultimate realization of this journey?

Perhaps I'll read it again.
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