Monday, March 5, 2012

Carry the One by Carol Anshaw — 272 pgs

On the evening of Carmen’s wedding, after a very nontraditional service and reception, Carmen’s siblings Alice and Nick pile into a car with a few other guests, each of whom are either on the cusp of sleep or very far from sobriety. When a young girl runs across the road and is mowed down by the party guests, her death leaves lasting impressions upon all those attending the reception that evening. Moving forward through 25 years, each of these primary and ancillary characters’ lives are revealed. As they grapple with the weight that life forces upon them, some will sink into perpetual moral and ethical mire while others will find themselves chasing dreams that can never be caught. For Carmen, life will dance around the various issues and causes she supports as she repeatedly loses and finds herself amidst her younger siblings and the family she has constructed. For Alice, the accident marks the beginning of an obsession that will carry her into the arms of the woman that she loves but can never make a life with, while Nick begins to careen down a path that vacillates between flashes of intense brilliance and dangerous and stuporous binging on a startling amount of drugs and alcohol. As the tragedy that marks the three weaves its way in and out of their lives, they will begin to discover that the joys and sorrows of their lives are inextricably entwined. As they fight for the control and emotional stability that constantly eludes them, they will all come to discover the inner strength and curious frailty that they all share.

While this was a book that I enjoyed immensley and found to be extremely satisfying, it was also a very gritty and emotionally charged read. Anshaw is an amazingly skillful author, and in her complex layering of character and plot, a tremendous amount of inner turmoil and narrative flexibility is revealed. Ostensibly, this is a book about how a tragic event has repercussions that ripple through the lives of the three main characters, but to say that this is all the book is about would be tremendously misleading. There are many ideas and themes in this novel that are balanced throughout the story, and in what amounts to literary snapshots of the lives of Alice, Carmen and Nick, Anshaw tethers and pulls a vast amount of gravity and relevance into a tale that is at once stunning and reflective.

Though the three siblings have some similarities, I found each of them to be vastly different. All three share a modicum of obsessive behavior, and though Nick’s obsession is the most damaging, one could argue that Alice and Carmen also struggle with letting their desires and ideals contort and stretch them into uncomfortable situations. For Carmen, the drive to take a progressive stance on political and social issues is a factor that dominates her life, while Alice, an artist, is brought repeatedly to her knees in her attempts to obtain and keep the love of a woman who is beautiful but sometimes cruel. Each of the siblings are enclosed in boxes of their own longing, and while they accomplish much at times, there are significant reversals in their forward progression that enables the reader to realize that they are all somewhat damaged individuals.

The way that Anshaw manages to tell this tale is spellbinding and very original, and the writing was simply outstanding. Even the dialogue felt authentic and true. In capturing the emotional somersaulting of these characters, there was a feeling of vivid clarity and a rawness that took my breath away. Often when I was reading, I would begin to feel a sudden overload of feeling as Anshaw was leading her characters down some particularly rough and troublesome paths. Everything was exposed here in way that sometimes made me joyous and sometimes made me ache. It was a tale that was steeped in sorrow but that unexpectedly had moments of pure lightness and ease. There were no easy answers for this family, and as a reader, I grew apprehensive in the moments of ease, knowing that the struggle was surely not far behind.

For each character, the girl that the accident claimed becomes a haunting and intruding presence upon their lives. For Nick, the guilt he harbors becomes an excuse to lose himself within a debauchery that alienates himself from his higher reasoning centers as well as his family. Alice feels her presence as a strange muse who forces her to create visually stunning pieces of art that she feels she can’t share with the world. I felt Carmen was least affected, but in a quiet way she also feels as though her suffering and mistakes are part of the penance she must pay for that one awful night so long ago. In the bigger picture, the girl is just a fragmentary image, but one that is nonetheless destructive no matter how much time passes.

This was a novel that I had a hard time tearing myself away from, and its beauty was sometimes brutal and intense. I would have to say that as a work of literary fiction, this book was stunning and one that would be enjoyed by many. For readers looking for something both real and haunting, look no further. Both elegant and quietly terrifying, this is a book not to be missed.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

25 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This sounds very intense! I can see how something like that would haunt the participants forever, and one could empathize with the survivors in this.

Harvee said...

Enjoyed your review. I sometimes like haunting literary fiction even though the guilt that the characters carry in this book might leave a unhappy residue on my mind! Reminds me of a time when I passed a stopped vehicle and a child ran from it right in front of my car. I missed her by a car length but your book reminded me of how lucky I was.

Trisha said...

Stories which revolve around the aftermath of tragedies are really interesting to me, so thanks for the suggestion.

Jenny said...

This definitely sounds like an emotional read but like a very good read as well. How awful that their life together basically started with that tragedy. I'm curious how all the ancilliary characters were affected as well though!

Brooke said...

This one looks so, so good! I'm glad to see that you enjoyed it. The aftermath of tragedy is a theme I enjoy exploring, both in movies and literature.

Amy said...

I'm so gld you enjoyed this book. I thought it was great.

I thought Carmen was the least affected by the girl's death and wondered if that was because she was present for it. SHe felt a lot of guilt for letting them all drive off. I also wondered if Carmen's intense focus on causes which seemed greater after the accident was an indication of how responsible she felt for what happened.

I though Anshaw's writing was amazing, too, and I was blown away by the siblings. I thought they were terrific characters, really interesting. I wished there was more about Carmen, though.

I enjoyed this review so much, Heather, you did a great job!

Darlene said...

I read about this one a while back and it did sound really good. This is probably a story that would draw me in as well.

Suko said...

Zibilee, this book sounds extremely intense and deeply affecting. Wonderful review, as always!

bermudaonion said...

Gritty works for me as long as the book rings true and it sounds like this one does. This book sounds outstanding and I can't wait to read it!

Aarti said...

So when I saw the subject line of this review, I totally thought it was going to be about math. CLEARLY, I was very wrong. This book sounds very, very intense (and deeply sad), but it sounds as though it hits the mark in terms of emotional impact. Great review, as always!

softdrink said...

It sounds intense...I'd have to be in the right mood, I think.

Jenners said...

This sounds very intense. (Even the title is intense.) I do like these kinds of books. It makes me wonder if they would have had these problems if they hadn't been involved in the accident.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

High praise for this one. It's one I've had on my wish list, so I am thrilled to see how much you enjoyed it. Loved meaty stories, and this one seems like it's just that.

Lisa said...

Your second paragraph really makes me think this would make an excellent choice for a book club! Great review!

nomadreader said...

Oh, I'm glad to see you rave about this one! It's next in my pile and I hope to start it this evening. Great review today!

Cath said...

Oh, I so want to read this! I wasn't quite sure but now I am. Great, great review and thanks!

vasilly said...

You know, I would never have picked this book based on the title or cover but your review has changed my mind.

Kaye said...

Sounds like this talented author put you through the emotional wringer with her characters.

Marie said...

wow! sounds like a must-read! great review :-D

Buried In Print said...

I've enjoyed her other novels too, so I definitely want to read this one; I think Aquamarine is my favourite so far, but this sounds like a powerful story indeed.

Aths said...

I can't wait to read this one! I have just requested it from the library and am waiting for it. So glad that you strongly recommend it!

TheBookGirl said...

I had heard about this one a while ago and thought that it sounded like something that would grab me...from the sound of your review, I am now convinced :)

I do think, though, that I would have to be in the right frame of mind to read this one, given how intense you make the story out to be...

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

I absolutely get what you're saying - that a book can be satisfying, even if/though it leaves you shaken up. I love how this novel kept you on the edge of your seat, even in relatively calm scenes. That the author was able to make that tension felt so strongly is a real testament to her skills.

And, a testament to your skills as a reviewer is that I've added this to my "must read NOW!" list. Thanks, as always, for your insightful review, Heather.

Steph said...

Such a great review, Heather! I have friends who have really been moved by this book, so it was on my radar before your post, but you've definitely heightened my interest in this one. Although not really the same, the premise of this one reminds me of Red Hook Road, which I read a few years ago and was another one of those books that is just unbearably sad at times and yet you can't stop reading it. If you've not read that one, I highly recommend it!

Ti said...

I teared up a bit when I read that first paragraph. I can't imagine how horrifying such an event would be. For it to happen after such a joyous event and to always be reminded of it. As you said... brutal and intense for sure.

Post a Comment

 
Blogger Template by Delicious Design Studio