Book Review: Carry the One by Carol Anshaw

Posted January 10, 2012 by Heather in Book Reviews / 2 Comments

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Carry the One by Carol AnshawCarry the One by Carol Anshaw
Published by Simon & Schuster on March 6, 2012
Genres: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Pages: 272
Source: the publisher

Goodreads | Amazon

Carry the One begins in the hours following Carmen's wedding reception, when a car filled with stoned, drunk, and sleepy guests accidentally hits and kills a girl on a dark country road. For the next twenty-five years, those involved, including Carmen and her brother and sister, connect and disconnect and reconnect with one another and their victim. As one character says, 'When you add us up, you always have to carry the one.'

Through friendships and love affairs; marriage and divorce; parenthood, holidays, and the modest tragedies and joys of ordinary days, Carry the One shows how one life affects another and how those who thrive and those who self-destruct are closer to one another than we'd expect.

(from the back cover)

That synopsis is a good one, but I don’t think it does the book justice. Even though I finished reading Carry the One at the very end of December, because my best-of-2011 post had already been written, this book will be going on my best-of-2012 list without a doubt. It was so good that I can already make that claim after reading only three other books so far this year. Carol Anshaw’s writing is wonderful, and although I thought the storyline was very good, it is Anshaw’s writing that made this book great. The prose in Carry the One is beautiful.

From the very beginning, Carry the One reminded me of The World According to Garp in a couple of ways. First, as in Garp, some of the elements in Carry the One are fantastical, but without being unbelievable. Things seem a bit exaggerated and/or extreme, but not in a way that demands that the reader suspend his/her disbelief. Second, while there is a lot of tragedy in Carry the One–the tragedy with a capital “T” in the beginning, and then lesser, day-to-day tragedies throughout–there is also a lot of laughter. In Garp, Irving showed us that sometimes the only way to deal with trauma and tragedy is through laughter, and Anshaw shows us the same thing in Carry the One. Anshaw’s novel, like Irving’s, has its tragic and sad parts, but it has uplifting and funny parts, too–and many of the situations in Carry the One are a mixture of both.

At the end of the ARC I read, there is a short interview with Carol Anshaw in which she was asked, “How did you come to write Carry the One?” She responded:

I wanted to make a story that has sweep but feels concentrated. I wanted to make a book that is recognizably a novel but also something a little new.

Someone once said that, in terms of narrative, what follows violence is always interesting. Setting up the violence in the book as a death, an accident, but one that could probably have been avoided was a layer that I applied to the story, to give it moral shading. The characters feel greater and lesser degrees of responsibility, and have very different responses to what happened, but none of them can outrun its shadow.

I also wanted to write a story that covers a significant span of years, to examine the part that time plays in love and obsession, in relationships among siblings, in the political convictions and struggles of an artist. And in the case of one character, the way addiction can trump everything else. I see a lot in literature about addiction, but very little about what it’s like for the family of an addict, how one member can create a centrifuge, pulling the others into the spin, how much energy is spent trying to retrieve the person hurtling downward.

Anshaw accomplished all of this and then some. She also does a great job of showing how different people deal with life-altering moments and decisions, how people learn to come to terms with their mistakes (or not), and what happens when some people just can’t let go and move on. Have I mentioned yet how much I enjoyed this book?

Carry the One will go on sale at the beginning of March, and I can’t wait to hear what others think about it. I devoured it in two days and I loved it. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading good literary fiction.


(To learn more about Carol Anshaw, please visit her official website.)

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  • This looks very good, and I’ve seen raves for it on Twitter too! It kind of reminds me of the setup for “Red Hook Road,” by Ayelet Waldman, where the just-married couple dies en route to their wedding reception, and it’s the stories of the bride and groom’s families trying to cope with their deaths in the years to come. I loved that one (and I like old Irving stuff too).

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