CARRY THE ONE
by Carol Anshaw
3 stars, with some reservations
Carol Anshaw creates a brilliant premise for her latest novel, CARRY THE ONE. A group of “friends” leave a wedding, all drunk, stoned or high and kill a 10 year-old girl. Each in his or her way must carry that weight forever. She sets it up beautifully, making me feel like another guest at the wedding…
Carmen could see the women gathering, clutching the Instamatics, tears already pooling in the corners of their eyes, tourists on an emotional safari, eager to bag a bride.
This is Carmen’s (the bride’s) perspective. Within the first few pages I liked her strength, her wit and her sense of humor. But quickly Anshaw jolts readers to a fresh perspective and we are suddenly in a bedroom with two women having sex. A few pages later, cut again to Nick in a wedding dress stoned out of his mind. I can stay with multiple perspectives in a novel, but Anshaw does it so often, and so quickly, that I found her transitions awkward.
I was also left wanting more from some characters, Carmen most notably. I was drawn in to her storyline, especially the way she loves her son.
Skinny and often distracted, he looked beat-upable, snatchable. This pressed on Carmen’s heart and made her fearful every time he stepped out of her view into the wider world.
This vulnerability is even more powerful because it’s in stark contrast to the rest of her self-assured, almost in-your-face political actions. Because I identified with her most strongly, I wish I knew more; but between the changing narrators and the huge time jumps, I would miss chunks of her evolution.
On the other hand, I appreciated the skill with which Anshaw drew the similarities and differences in the other characters’ reactions to the trauma. All of these men and women are seriously screwed up to begin with, so heaping on guilt and sorrow leads to some really bad behavior. Alice (Carmen’s sister) has an especially hard time separating her feelings at the time of the accident from the lust and obsession she has for Maude, also in the car.
I flew from storyline to storyline always wanting a little bit more. Not content to just stick with just the fallout from the trauma, Anshaw also introduces bad parents, anorexic stepchildren, and a variety of lovers and husbands into the mix. Anshaw’s writing is so strong, descriptive and engaging, that I wanted time to appreciate it. In the end, there were too many storylines pulling me into too many places.
I also wish she would have trusted her readers (or her own writing) a little more. This is not her first time out of the gate. I really did not need one of her characters to explain the significance of the book’s title within quotation marks; I got it.