Carry the One, By Carol Anshaw
Out of a fatal accident comes a patchwork quilt of changed lives
Saturday 10 November 2012
Over the course of a quietly successful career, Chicago novelist Carol Anshaw has long explored how one event or choice can colour an entire life. Her 1992 debut, Aquamarine, imagined alternative outcomes for its feisty heroine - an Olympic swimmer - while this latest work kicks off with a wedding and an accident.
It's a hot summer day in 1983 when Matt and Carmen exchange vows in a backyard in rural Wisconsin. The well-oiled guests sing along to authentic folk ditties, while the heavily pregnant bride sits tight hoping to miss "the mortifying dances segment". Back inside, her sister Alice is being bedded by a woman called Maud - "So far, this was the best moment of her life" - and her brother Nick, dressed in a silk gown, is handing out magic mushrooms to the younger cousins. A few hours later and a car-load of these stoned guests drive into the path of a ten-year-old girl, killing her outright.
Over the next 25 year years - the novel ends with Obama's 2008 election victory - each passenger in the car will re-live that night, wondering how they might have re-written history. It's a Big Chill-style scenario in which some members of this tightly-bound group prove more vulnerable than others.
Anshaw's forte as a writer is to show how most of us stumble through life without the help of a road map. Cutting between stories, we watch as these liberal-leaning questers experiment with various personae and emotional props, from drugs to obsessive relationships. Early on, Carmen's husband leaves her for the 19-year-old babysitter while Nick, a brainy astronomer, turns to prostitutes and more drugs. Alice, the most successful sibling, makes her name as an artist with a series of portraits of the long-dead girl.
Reading Anshaw is like being submerged under a patchwork quilt of gorgeous detail. Every nuance of her characters' behaviour is beautifully accounted for, but as individual dynamic creations they fail make the heart beat faster. In Anshaw's hands, this generation of navel-gazers prove a gently soporific lot.
musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 This 'woman calls police to order pizza' story isn't going where you're expecting
- 2 Axe wielding man shot dead after attacking four New York policemen on busy street
- 3 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 4 Jimmy Carr's Oscar Pistorius joke goes a bit too far at the Q Awards
- 5 Ottawa shootings: Bruce MacKinnon's cartoon is the perfect tribute to soldier Nathan Cirillo
Interstellar: What we know about Christopher Nolan's new film so far
The Apprentice 2014: Nurun Ahmed and Lindsay Booth sent home in double firing
JK Rowling to publish new Harry Potter story online for Halloween
Miranda Hart confirms eponymous sitcom has come to an end as she bows out on a 'high'
Fury, film review: Brad Pitt stars in visceral and brutally ugly drama that reminds us war is hell
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Attacks on 'Ukip Calypso' show how skewed people’s priorities are