Book review: Carry the One by Carol Anshaw

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 December, 2012, 6:26pm


Carry the One
by Carol Anshaw

Carry the One opens in 1983, with a wedding and a tragedy happening in quick succession.

The wedding of Carmen and Matt is a pleasantly raucous affair, held outdoors at a bohemian farm in rural Wisconsin. Carmen's brother and sister have both momentarily slipped away from the proceedings. Alice, to her thrilled astonishment, has been taken to a back bedroom by Matt's sister Maude and now lies underneath her, naked, being thoroughly ravished. Carmen and Alice's brother Nick, a promising astronomer, is another floor up with new girlfriend Olivia, handing out mushrooms to the younger cousins.

The evening winds down, and Nick and Olivia offer a ride to Alice and Maude. Off they drive into the night, where they're all too stoned, drunk or preoccupied to see 10-year-old Casey Redman stray into the path of their car.

In bare description, this could sound like the opening of a particularly soapy novel, but one of the many joys of Carry the One - longlisted for the Green Carnation prize - is how resolutely Carol Anshaw refuses to indulge in cheap melodrama. Instead, she follows her characters' lives over the next 25 years, seeing them with startling clarity, warmth and humour.

Olivia, who was driving, is arrested for Casey's death and accepts her punishment with a stoicism that shames the others. Alice, meanwhile, doesn't see Maude again for two years. Carmen's marriage to Matt doesn't last. Divorced, Carmen's life becomes lonely; she marries the seemingly shallow and apolitical Rob, immediately realising the marriage is "a small mistake", but one that nevertheless might just surprise her by making her happy.

These lives go off the rails and back on again through to the election of Barack Obama in 2008. People meet and part and die and survive, just as they do in real life.

Carry the One is a marvellous novel, smart and emotionally intelligent about people.

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