book review: Carry the One by Carol Anshaw

The basics: In the late night hours after the wedding reception of Matt and Carmen, who is pregnant, a car full of high guests leaves the rural house where the reception was held to return to the hotel. Olivia, a mail carrier dating Carmen's brother Nick, drives. Also in the car are Alice, Carmen's sister; Maude, Nick's sister; and Tom. The car strikes and kills a ten-year-old girl.

My thoughts: While I expected this novel to be dark given its subject matter, I was pleased Anshaw focuses more on the characters first and the effects this night had on them rather than the direct aftermath. This novel is not a story of grief; it's a story of how that night changed the course of three siblings.

From the early pages Anshaw shows she can write both about the characters and about all of us at once:
"Some of the time when she talked to Matt, she felt like she was in a movie scripted by lazy screenwriters. The two of them were still generic characters in each other’s stories. Girlfriend/boyfriend. Bride/groom. Wife/husband. But maybe that’s all that marriage was--you fell into a groove already worn for you. You had a place now. The music had stopped and you’d gotten a chair."
Carry the One is exactly the kind of character-driven novel I love. It's short (less than 300 pages) and it seamlessly covers twenty-five years of experience for three characters. Time moves forward, and she gives clues about how much time has passed without feeling the need for time and date headings. In a novel this good, the dates don't matter; the changes, both small and large, that truly change these characters are what matters.

As I read, I found myself thinking of Jean Thompson's The Year We Left Home (my review). Both are Midwestern family sagas, but while I respected Thompson's characters, I devoured Anshaw's and her careful observations of them. In Carry the One, there was a recurring cast of characters I enjoyed, but I was glad she focused on the three siblings. Even more so, I could not get enough of Anshaw's writing and wisdom.

Favorite passage: "Maybe, Maude would speculate, when she'd finished school she should move to New York for awhile, to wring as mach as she could out of modeling. Or she should move to LA to see if she could break in to movies. Her fascination with hypothetical versions of herself was bottomless."

The verdict: I read Carry the One compulsively and loved every word of Anshaw's writing.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 272 pages
Publication date: March 6, 2012
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Carry the One from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

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  1. I've been dying to get my hands on this one, but finally I was told "it's in the mail". We shall see. Love the sound of this one, and so glad to see you really enjoyed it.

  2. This sounds so good! I like character driven novels as well that aren't too detailed which it sounds like this is!

  3. I have heard nothing but good things about this one. Such a tragic story. A wedding is something to be cherished and remembered for years to come and to have it tainted by tragedy would be heartbreaking.

  4. I loved this book so much, and am so glad that you did too! It was a dark story, and one that held so much portent, and I think that you did an amazing job with this review. Such an amazing book, and one that it will be hard to forget.

  5. You've convinced me that I need to read this post-haste. I find myself more and more drawn to character-driven and simply written books. These appears to more than meet both criteria.

  6. This was just fabulous, wasn't it? I can't stop thinking about it...


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