VIMEO.COM HAUNTED BY THE PAST | A struggling family is shaped by a tragic accident.
HAUNTED BY THE PAST | A struggling family is shaped by a tragic accident.

4/5 stars

Carol Anshaw, in her latest novel, proves she has a talent for making us feel better about ourselves. After all, if you picked up her The New York Times-recommended bestseller to look for some weekend reading, you’re most likely not a drug-addicted astronomer with a significant other in prison, a fading artist passive-aggressively attempting to ruin your children’s careers or an activist missing an ear whose husband has run off with his new girlfriend to be a Christian missionary in Africa.
What Anshaw does, however, is remind us that just because we think our lives are going in one direction, we never know how one accident can permanently threaten to unravel everything we’ve established.
Her fourth novel, Carry the One is a wonderful book, but it’s certainly not for everyone. Although the prose is beautiful and the individual story lines haunting, the characters are very heavily flawed, and there are passages that rival a certain scene between Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman in Black Swan. Siblings Carmen, Nick and Alice consciously seek out self-destruction, and there’s enough grim acceptance of drug addiction and unhappy circumstances to encourage us to start making better decisions. That said, it’s an elegant book with the topics expertly handled to make us realize that, hey, that’s just life.
Taking place over  the course of 25 years, the book discusses the multi-decade impact of a substance-caused car accident that kills a young girl on the night of Carmen’s shotgun wedding.  In the car are Nick, whose scientific brilliance is only outshone by his tendency to get high, and Alice, a promising artist who is as devoted to her work as she is to fooling around with the groom’s sister. Rounding out the ensemble are Olivia, the driver, Nick’s girlfriend and fellow junkie, Tom, a musician who finds celebrity through tragedy, and Maude, the fickle model-turned-nurse.
Anshaw masterfully navigates the unpredictability of life by celebrating success and conceding our own occasional inability to make an impact and save the ones we care about. Interspersed between births and deaths, coming togethers and falling aparts, the shortened life of the girl haunts each character as they individually are burdened by their roles in her death.
It’s a very modern novel that is not afraid to shy away from topics that other books might bypass: graphic depictions of drug abuse, explicit same-sex encounters and directly calling out parents for abusing their children or watching the abuse and not stepping in. Its brash lack of fear in addressing these issues make it intriguing, but certainly not an easy read. Nevertheless, the prose is captivating, the opportunity to delve into formerly taboo topics is almost irresistible and Carry the One provides a glimpse into the direction of modern-day literature.

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