When I first read the Amazon product description of this book, "Carry the One begins in the hours following Carmen's wedding reception, when a car filled with stoned, drunk, and sleepy guests accidently hits and kills a girl on a dark, country road," I was a little nervous. Is this going to be another treatment of I Know What You Did Last Summer, or worse, the insufferably boring Red Hook Road? To my great relief, it was really more about Carmen and her siblings Alice and Nick and their little Chicago-based (woot!) universe. As they orbit, their ellipses stretch them far from each other but bring them back together over the next twenty-five year years (this is a bit of a nudge at Nick's quasi-career in astronomy).
The accident itself is a mere shadow on the life of each individual involved, it does not dominate it. It subtly peeks at them during various stages of their lives, like artist Alice completing a series of paintings of the victim or Nick developing a relationship with the dead girl's mother as his own form of penance. The accident is not an excuse for their behavior or the outcome of their lives, but rather a factor in choices they made.
The writing itself was elegant and conveyed atmosphere. The conclusion outlined the paths that each character would continue down, but there was a lack of finality. I wouldn't call it unresolved, but open-ended in a way that let me know that the characters would continue on with their lives in the same vein that they lived them during the narrative. Overall, I felt it was a well-written character study that illustrated the interconnectedness of individuals and events effectively.
I won a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via BookRiot.
on March 12, 2012
I want to say that I finished "Carry the one" in one sitting- but I didn't. Instead, I chose to savor it over the course of a few days. This is the kind of novel that you read, set down on your lap and just think. Think about what the words are really saying, what the meaning really is, how it applies to you. Now, I am not necessarily the deapest person and will take a mindbending thriller or YA dystopian novel over any of our great early literature. But this novel was so deep and spoke to me on so many levels, that I could not stop thinking about it.
The brief synopsis is above- a group of young people are affected by a small child that they hit and killed. The novels details their lives over many years and incorporate many huge historical events. This of this like Forest Gump- a fun detailing of real events told as a saga over many many years. But instead of funny Forest that did unbelievable things, this is a very believable story about a group of characters that I absolutely loved.
When I finished the novel, I actually said out loud- this is the bible for liberalists everywhere! I felt the urge to burn my bra and felt great to be an open minded woman. But then, I realized that that characterization might scare off the people that really should read it! Which is all of us. Liberal or conservative- if you open your mind and read this, you can relate to the characters. We are all detailed in this book in one way or another- regardless of social class, sexual preference, moral beliefs- this book detailed what we are at the core. Humans in search of love filled with vulnerabilities that want to do right.
Carol Anshaw, you did right by writing this book. It should be required reading. It is a wonderful reminder that we are all carrying the one- carrying someone in our lives that we want to save, someone that has made a difference to us, someone we may have wronged, someone we look up to. I look up to you Carol- this was an amazing, touching story.
on April 11, 2012
This beautiful and tenderhearted book (all her books are tenderhearted, even at their most drily ironic) joins elegance of structure with a subtle, oblique scrutiny of the dissimilar trajectories through adulthood of three emotionally interdependent siblings, and the friends and lovers who were involved in the terrible accident that ends the first chapter. The magic is declared in the book's title: it describes both the device by which the reader journeys from chapter to chapter, and the special sort of narrative time-travel (skipping whole years in a single leap) that allows us to experience a quarter century of growing up (or failing to do so) for the many characters in this story. I thought Anshaw performed an amazing feat in the unobtrusive, restrained way she gave life to the one character who was robbed of her future right at the start of the book. In the last chapter, Anshaw gives us (or I should say, Olivia, who alone did time for the child's death, and is rendered as an especially closed, opaque personality) a small miracle, a consoling touch whose mystery has been fully earned over the length of the story. Alice, the sister who paints, is a surrogate for the novelist, who captures, and blesses her human creatures (and a couple of dogs) with a patient accumulation of small, attentive touches. Anshaw's books are all about family (even when the family is broken or--as in this book--frayed), about the mismatch between love and passion, and about the rueful, sometimes anxious acknowledgement that we're hopelessly fallible. They're also about the mysteries of time. In Anshaw's world, art (the writer's art especially) is redemptive--and the writing is pitch-perfect.
on January 27, 2013
I found this to be a difficult novel to get into after the opening volley in which something tragic occurs following a hippie-type wedding at a house in Wisconsin. The novel essentially revolves around three siblings, Carmen, Alice and Nick, the children of a father artist. Carmen marries that day, and her sister Alice begins an affair with the groom's sister. Nick is addicted to drugs as is his girlfriend, Olivia. And then something happens that will haunt them through the next many years.
I grew to really enjoy these characters, Carmen the campaigner for human rights, Alice the ascending artist, and Nick faithful to Olivia and willing to clean up his act.
Carry The One by Carol Anshaw has been touted as a book about a group of young people leaving a wedding stoned and drunk who run into a young girl, hitting her with their automobile and killing her. Supposedly, they carry her with them as their lives progress and that is how the novel gets its title. I didn't find the story like that at all.
There are several supporting characters in this novel but it is primarily about a group of three siblings, Alice, Nick and Carmen. Alice is a burgeoning artist who finds fame and fortune in the art world. Nick is a brilliant astronomer who is an addict and can never get out of his personal hell despite rehab after rehab. Carmen is a social activist who advocates for several liberal causes and runs a women's shelter. All of them go on in their lives occasionally remembering the dead girl, Casey Redman, but they don't `carry ` her with them most of the time.
Alice does do a series of paintings of Casey growing up, still dressed in the same outfit she had on when she was hit with an automobile. Mostly though, Alice is consumed with her passion for Maude and her career. Carmen occasionally thinks of Casey, but rarely. Nick wants to avoid his feelings through alcohol and drugs and regularly visits Casey's mother and occasionally Casey's father. He is the one who carries Casey's memory though it is blotted out of his consciousness by his addictions.
The story is interesting but filled with clichés and the style is somewhat minimalist. I enjoy rich characters and language which I found lacking in this book. While it is a book I finished it is not one that I'd recommend to my friends. There is something lacking and that is the meaning of the title. Casey is not carried by these people through their lives. She comes to them once in a while but they proceed along very nicely (except for Nick) without her.
on May 4, 2012
An interesting story about this family. Family dynamics keep coming back over the years. You think you can put aside a painful event like this, but it keeps popping back into your mind. Lives are changed and lives are lived differently than they might have been without this accident.
Good story with many strong characters. Very enjoyable.
Carol Anshaw's latest novel begins with a scene out of a nightmare: on the way back from a wedding reception in the early 1980s, a car driven by the bride's brother's girlfriend kills a young girl who unexpectedly runs into the road. Everyone in the car has some reason to feel guilty, as does the bride herself, who knew they were high, drunk, tired, or all three, and still let them drive away. In the quarter-century that follows, the lives of the five passengers and the bride, shadowed by their shared grief, intersect and unfold as they grow from their early twenties to their mid-forties, stumbling slowly toward maturity. The focus is particularly on three siblings: Nick, astronomer and perpetually-relapsing addict, whose girlfriend Olivia was driving and ends up in jail; Alice, a painter whose complicated romance with her sister-in-law Maude is only beginning when they both take that fateful car ride; and Carmen, a liberal activist whose marriage doesn't develop as she expects. Their triumphs and tragedies, although grounded in the details of place, time, and social circle, are universal, and ultimately the novel is less about coming to terms with guilt than it is about coming to terms with adulthood. Although none of the outcomes or moments of revelation are greatly surprising, the sharp humor, expert language, and unsentimental sympathy make Carry the One a rich, rewarding novel of ordinary life.
One of the book's strengths is its structure, which blurs the line between the traditional novel and the collection of linked stories. Roughly 30 individually-titled sections might either be chapters or short stories in the slice-of-life mode. This approach works very well, capturing the rhythms of lives in transition, and including all the vibrancy and telling detail of the slice-of-life story without the sense of lacking substance that sometimes accompanies it. From time to time there are sections that feel slightly redundant, as the struggles of the characters with the same issues threaten to become frustrating rather than endearing, but each chapter is so slim and well-crafted that the frustration never lasts for long. The prose is clear and elegant in the way of the best contemporary minimalism, not superficially stylish but carefully-observed and usually subtle about how events reflect themes. The high point is surely the humor. I found something on every page that was at least worth a broad smile, from affectionate banter among the siblings to mildly sarcastic appraisals of others' foibles to ironically pointed descriptions ("The hallway was painted a landlord odd-lot color, a syrupy blue-green Alice called Ukrainian Maternity Hospital, 1952"). Although the world of artists, addicts, and activists (oh my!) through which the characters move will be known to some readers from other contemporary literary fiction, it's so deftly-rendered that it never feels irritatingly familiar, and the scope of Anshaw's vision is wider than the easy readability of her language might suggest.
These touches, and the weaving of recent American history throughout the personal stories, make the novel feel specific and grounded in reality in ways that less-accomplished novels on these themes often do not. It helps that the central characters, all recovering in different ways from a childhood with their mercurial artist father and distant mother, love their siblings but have no illusions about (what they see as) each other's flaws. Their warm, wry perspectives prevent things from becoming too melodramatic or too optimistically sentimental. It's especially hard to write about the cycle of addiction without slipping toward one of those extremes, but Anshaw threads the needle. The result is a book with appeal both for those who want a meditation on the lingering effects of social and familial connections and those who want a funny, compelling read about messed-up but lovable characters. Carry the One is an almost faultlessly executed novel with enormous appeal.
on March 10, 2013
In March 2013, the book discussion group met at The LGBT Center in NYC to discuss this book. We had a small group that generally agreed that it's a good novel but not a terrific novel. Esther and I seemed to like it more than some of the other readers. We thought that much of the language was simple and concise, but offered big emotional impacts. Language and terms about addiction and astronomy are slipped in (if you start to notice them) but resonant throughout. Others thought that the language was too simple and straightforward. Some liked the interconnected stories but others wanted more complex stories: more detail about the individual lives, more connection between the initial horrifying accident and the lives that the characters lived, more analysis and cause-and-effect. We were all, however, able to point out individual sentences that we thought were spectacular.
We did question some of the minor characters (such as Carmen's dog, Walter) and carefully described events (such as visit to the Paris hammam). We all agreed that the love affair between Alice and Maude was the main action of the novel, and that the affair with Diane (the doctor) at the end seemed rushed and maybe creepy. We also talked about why Olivia, the driver during the accident, is such a minor character in the novel.
Then we discussed the final sentence. Several readers didn't notice it and then didn't think it was significant but several of us thought that it's absolutely important and subtly changes the entire novel, although we couldn't quite decide how. (If you don't get what I'm talking about, re-read the chapter "The Excellent Sandwich" and then the final chapter "The Opposite of Iceland," paying careful attention to the clothes.) This is why you come to a book group and discuss a novel.
We also talked about modern novels, such as those written by Jonathan Franzen and Stephen King, that have large scopes and a huge number of vaguely related characters (such as this novel) rather than older, more focused novels (such as "Maurice" and "Giovanni's Room," which we just read). We also compared it to Iris Murdock novels, which are equally built on dramatic events but seem bigger and better. Readers in this group don't seem to like these modern novels as much as they like more "classic" fiction.
This is really quite a magnificent book. For a while, as I read, for I couldn't put it down, I thought, "I don't know if I really care about any of these characters." But I must have, finishing the book, relishing the experience of spending time with a group of exceptionally well-drawn, well thought out characters, all related by "accident." I think what pulled me in was the relationship, the family that included Carmen, Alice, and Nick...their relationship that grows, ebbs, grows from their remembered and common experiences as children, their love and their need of and caring for one another as life takes them in very different, sometimes satisfying, sometimes very dangerous and sad and destructive directions. Family does bind...it's the one common denominator for siblings, in spite of how they look back on and choose to remember how they were parented, how they were nurtured or not, loved or not; the course in life one follows, for better or worse, is so much determined by what our parents do to and for us and how, as we move into adulthood, we begin to reflect the positive and the negative of those expeeriences. I can so relate, in many ways, to the characters with which Carol Anshaw has peopled "Carry the One." Nick reminds me to some extent of my brothers Tom and John, now both deceased; I can understand and empathize and sympathize with Alice's dealing with her being gay, for I am gay; fortunately I didn't have as tortured a path to follow as Alice did, but I can understand her journey nonetheless. Carmen, Alice, Nick, Olivia...you aren't likely to forget them as you come to the book's end. And I've nothing but praise for Anshaw's use of the language and the manner in which she moves her story over quite a period of time. The book is an amazing accomplishment for the author. One can only wish her continued inspiration; this story, however, is going to be a tough one to top.
on April 3, 2012
I finished Carry The One nearly a month ago, but I've had a hard time trying to figure out how to write about it. It's well-crafted, beautifully written and nicely-paced. The characters are engaging and the story believable. I have a lot of really complementary things to say about Carry The One, but ultimately I didn't love it.
Carry The One is a family drama that focuses primarily on three siblings: Carmen, Alice and Nick. The story begins after Carmen's wedding, when Nick, Alice and their friends and girlfriends load up in a car and go racing into the night. When they hit and kill a young girl, the guilt follows them for the rest of their lives. The story follows Alice, Carmen and Nick for the next 25 years as they fall in and out of love, live through failure and success and seem to find some kind of resolution in the end.
This is a book about characters and this may sound strange, but I know it's a good book when I don't like one of the characters. I'm not talking about when a character does something irritating or is just kind of annoying, I'm talking about when a character is so fully-realized that I feel like I know them and I understand them. In Carry The One that character is Carmen. She's the kind of person that is never happy with what they have, never happy with the current state of the world, and never really appreciates all of the wonderful gifts in her life. She's a mother, a crusader and is supposed to be the sensible one of the bunch. She the least obviously affected by the death of the girl, but her struggle is more subtle and her character arc isn't as clearly resolved.
Alice is the artist of the family. She spends most of the novel escaping the shadow of her artist father, falling in and out of bed with Maude (who can't seem to fully come out of the closet and whose "fascination with hypothetical versions of herself was bottomless.") and coming to the rescue of her siblings. She's fun and funny, but she also loves harder than anyone else in the book. She loves her siblings, she loves Maude. She even seems to love her parents more than her brother and sister.
I feel like I was supposed to love Alice the most, but it turns out that Nick was the one I cared about the most. After the accident, Nick goes from a heavy drug user to a full-blown addict. I felt like his character was built from a flimsy stereotype, but I cared much more about what happened to him. When he's clean he's a very successful astronomer, but when he's using drugs, he's as down and out as it gets. Nick's story is the most heart-breaking because he is unable to channel the guilt and grief he feels over the death of the girl. His only response is to self-destruct.
This could have easily been a fluff novel, designed to pull at your heart-strings and manipulate you into shedding tears for two-dimensional characters, but Carol Anshaw pulls it off in way that feels real.
I said earlier that I didn't love Carry The One. I've been trying to figure out where the book and I missed each other and I've realized that it just wasn't written for me. I don't know if it's because I'm male and the book seems to be more geared towards female readers or if it's just a matter connecting to the story. Maybe it's both. I certainly think Carry The One will appeal more to women than men, but I hesitate to say that it's explicitly a book for women either.
In the end, Carry The One is a good book and I liked it. The characters are strong and relatable, the writing is quite good and the story feels fresh. Some readers will really love this book and others, like me, will probably appreciate, but not ultimately fall for its charms.