One of Those Books You Can’t Figure Out

I finished book #7 of my 100 in 2015, woo. I read Carol Anshaw’s Carry the One, and as you can probably assume from this post’s title, I can’t decide what I think of it. Somehow, it was one of those books that I liked while I was reading it, but it would probably be one of the last that I’d suggest if anyone asked for a good book to read, or wanted to borrow one of my books. And if I wasn’t blogging about books and their plot, I could see myself forgetting what this one was about in a year or two.

But at the same time, I did like it while I was reading, which is why I can’t really figure it out. So the premise of the story: it starts off right away with a fatal accident that becomes a tragic link between this cast of five people, three of whom already share a link because they’re siblings. The perspective shifts quite a bit throughout the story, as does the timeline. That was one of the disconcerting things right from the start, for me. Suddenly a new chapter would start and by one or two minor details or casual mentions, you’d realize you were almost five years from where the last chapter left off.

In that way, I think that made it more difficult to connect with the characters. You were never really sure where they were in their life, and where the rest of the characters were in theirs. It was strange no knowing how all their lives had shifted in that time. I think another thing that simultaneously made it more and less relatable (brace yourself, because this is a half-formed thought that might make no sense) was how toned down everything was.

So the story starts with a tragedy, one of the characters is at once a genius and a terrible drug addict who spends a lot of time in and out of rehabs and on the very harsh receiving end of his addictions, another character suffers from her own kind of addiction to an unhealthy, obsessive relationship, and on and on. This story had the potential to be really intense and so much more dramatic than it ended up being. It sort of went through the plot in a very quiet way, almost. And the fact that the accident from the beginning of the book always cropped up and served as a motivating factor for each character, whether it was motivating for good or bad, almost seemed like a cliche.

Which is why this aspect of the story at once made it more and less relatable. In a way, telling a story full of tragedy and broken characters in a quiet, muted way could serve as a metaphor for how we all go about our lives. Everyone has suffered through terrible events, relationships, etc. but we continue to live and work around it or bury it deep down. Time keeps passing no matter what is going on, so why dramatize it when it’s going to end up as part of your past either way? But then, I guess I’m not used to books being that similar to real life, which is why I found the muted storytelling a little confounding.

So, I don’t know whether I would recommend this book or not. It might be for some people, it may not be for others. I doubt I’ll reread it, but I’m sure I’ll think about an instance or two from the book that struck me. Oh! One writing technique she used that I love: when discussing the weather, instead of describing the atmosphere, like mentioning that there was a breeze, or the sky was bright blue, she would say things like “it was the most June day,” or “even though it was the first Tuesday in November, the weather was pure September.” I love that. It lets you feel the weather she’s describing, but what it means to you, rather than what it means to her or her characters. It really brought me more into the story. There were also some really beautifully observed passages about what it means to be a sibling, and part of a family. Anyone with a brother or sister will be able to at least relate to that aspect of the novel. Well done, Carol.

At this point, I’ll admit that I bought Carry the One based on the cover, alone. Sometimes, when I felt the need to leave my house but still wanted to avoid social interaction, I would go to Prairie Lights (aka heaven in Iowa City) and look at books. This one had a pretty cover and some acknowledgment from the New York Times on the cover, so I bought it. Maybe I needed to teach myself a lesson about judging a book by its cover. ◊

Their alliance was deep, formed in teh trenches of childhood where they were each other’s landsmen, comrades in strategy and survival, in warding off the contempt of their parents, and in protecting their brother.”                                                                 – 25

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