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Carry the One by Carol Anshaw

I still couldn’t bring myself to finish up my TBR challenge (See the books in my right side bar). Every book in the list seems to be so daunting. Instead I have chosen to read something new and easy to read instead. I received Carry the One from Penguin UK few days ago and I thought, “Why not?”

Shattered lives of Atonement

There’s still this connection. Because of the accident, we’re not just separate numbers. When you add us all up, you always have to carry the one.” – Alice page 148

In the early hours of the morning 1983, following a wedding reception of Carmen and Mark, a car filled with merry makers with stoned, drunk and sleepy guests accidentally hit and kills a girl in a dark country road.

These people were in the car:

Carmen Sloan is a political activist who is married to Matt, a devout Catholic and has a son together named Gabriel. Alice is Carmen’s sister, a lesbian and a painter closer to the description of the author herself. The driver who killed the girl that night was Olivia, who is sentenced to three years in prison and boyfriend Nick (Carmen and Alice’s brother) were stoned when they were driving. Maude is the sister of Matt and the elusive lover of Alice. Jean and Tom are friends of the Sloans siblings.

For the next 25 years, the lives of those involved are subtly shaped by this tragic event.

Central to this was Alice. A struggle artist, inherited her artistic talent from her obnoxious father Horace whom she can’t get along, Alice became an eventual star of the art world – and of some of the book’s sexy scenes. Saintly Carmen, pregnant and impulsively married, works in a women’s shelter, campaigns for social justice and props up her siblings when they fall. Nick, a gifted astronomer crippled by addiction, seeks escape from one in the other. Despite the differences in Carmen and Alice’s character, they are close:

So she and Carmen always approached each other carefully, with respect – minor diplomats, one from the arctic, the other from equatorial nation, attempting to understand each other’s customs, participate in each other’s holiday  – page 25

Less of a tale of atonement, more of everyday vignettes

Although there is plenty of heartbreak and pain, significant events often take place in the uncharted spaces between chapters; Anshaw shows us the results of change rather than the moment itself. So you will soon find out that someone has divorced or someone no longer with a specific partner because she has moved on to a new one. Anshaw talks about the little things in life but on the side revealing the devastating effects of guilt and addiction. In this case, the 911 event was mentioned as a momentous event in history but I just thought it is being overplayed too many times in books that cut across several time scales.

In truth, the sense of guilt or atonement didn’t come out really often or strong in this novel. It serves as a backdrop to the everyday vignettes that makes it feel like a good friend was talking to you about one thing and then digress and talk about other things in her life as well. Carry the One feel deceptively light and easy to read. I revel in the description of Carmen and her step daughter’s Heather’s experience in a Hamman (Moroccan public bath) in Paris as I too was more than familiar in this Hamman ritual as I have visited the public bath in Morocco several times, where women scrub and exfoliate each other’s body with Olive soap and rough cloth. Where the chambers are outpouring with hot water and chambers which are segregated into warm, hot and very hot in different degree of heat.

Less of a novel, more of a portrait

Carry the One is less of a novel but more of a portrait of the lives of these characters in the span of 25 years. It feels like a personal journal and memoirs without actual dates. It tells of the feelings and lives of these characters in heartbreaking and vivid details. It tells me so much that I inevitably invested in them. It goes on and on (in a good way) that you know this novel is not going anywhere specific, no neat conclusion but only to tell you that lives goes on after a tragic incident. Some people changed in the course of time and surprisingly some don’t. There are tears, pains, joy and new found hope and love.

As soon as you finished the book, you will feel as if you have known these characters all your life and you sincerely wish them well in the future. A good choice if you need something to read that you will engage in.

Carry the One paperback edition is published today, on the 22 November 2012. Big thanks for the lovely people at Penguin UK who sent the Advanced Reading Copy to me.

Paperback. Publisher: Penguin 2012; Length: 253 pages; Setting: USA. Source: ARC copy from Penguin UK. Finished reading on the 16th November 2012.

About the writer:

Carol Anshaw (born March 1946 in Grosse Pointe, Michigan) is an American novelist and short story writer. Her books include Lucky in the Corner, Seven Moves, Aquamarine, and Carry the One, published March 2012 to much critical acclaim. Her stories have been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories in 1994, 1998, and 2012. She acquired her MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts (1992). She has won a National Book Critics Circle Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, an NEA Grant, an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship, a Carl Sandburg Award and Society of Midland Authors Award.

Anshaw teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at SAIC, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
She is also a painter. Currently she is working on a sequence of paintings of the novelist and poet, Vita Sackville-West.

In 1968 she moved to Chicago, marrying Charles J. White III in 1969 (they were divorced in 1985). Since 1996, Anshaw has been in a relationship with photographer and teacher Jessie Ewing. The two divide their time between Chicago and Amsterdam.

About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


19 thoughts on “Carry the One by Carol Anshaw

  1. The books in your TBR pile are daunting, but I think they are worth it. Give A Fine Balance a go – I’m pretty sure you’ll love it as much as I did.

    Posted by farmlanebooks | November 22, 2012, 11:07 am
  2. Don’t feel bad about the TBR challenge – just continue to run it into next year. I have a similar thing going, but only in my head so I don’t have to feel bad about not succeeding each year 😛

    Posted by Sam (Tiny Library) | November 22, 2012, 9:03 pm
  3. Seeing that we’re nearly at the end of the year, do you really think you can finish Crime and Punishment this year?! LOL. From your list, Fingersmith and the Dark Side of Love are high on my TBR too (did you read about the Dark Side of Love from Jackie? I think I did.)

    Posted by mee | November 22, 2012, 10:00 pm
  4. I’m glad to see Carry the One coming out in the UK! I loved this one and thought the vignette style (though unexpected) was even more moving than a more-straight-forward narrative would have been.

    Posted by nomadreader | November 24, 2012, 4:19 pm
    • I agree Carrie. Not many people know about the book yet over in the UK. I think the approach is subtle and not having being told about every event that is happening is quite a relief and not turn this into a War and Peace!

      Posted by JoV | November 25, 2012, 12:42 am
  5. I listened to the audio book and thought it was better than I expected. Glad u enjoyed it as well.

    Posted by Diane@BibliophilebytheSea | November 24, 2012, 10:35 pm
  6. We have to do Wolf Totem sometime! :-). I like the sound of this book. I am not able to read too many serious books right now…and 4 stars from you, would make it a must-read in my list!

    Posted by Soul Muser | November 25, 2012, 10:18 am
  7. I read about half of Carry the One before realizing it wasn’t going anywhere particular, and then I got bored. What was interesting to me, I guess, was the idea of a book about how this one incident stuck with everyone and changed them. Everyday vignettes are really not my thing. :/

    Posted by Jenny | November 27, 2012, 1:07 am
    • Jenny,
      It’s great that you like a better sense of purpose in your reading! I’m surprised that there isn’t frequent mention about the incident but the reader would know it is sort of an undercurrent of what’s going on in these characters life. Would there not be a slightest chance you will continue to read this? 😉

      Posted by JoV | November 28, 2012, 11:10 pm
  8. Thanks for the recommendation. The plot looks very enticing. I love reading your review too! I think I may pick this book up. Cheers.

    Posted by Wilfrid Wong | November 27, 2012, 3:22 pm


  1. Pingback: Carry The One By Carol Anshaw - January 20, 2013

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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