In this profoundly moving psychological novel centering on the consequences of a devastating accident, Anshaw uses a night of celebration to jumpstart her fluid exploration into one family as they move through the decades. From the night of a wedding when a bucolic country scene echoes the harsh finality of death, the author’s ease with language
creates a subtle dramatic frisson that lingers long after the event that triggers the plot.
The turmoil begins under a huge butter moon on a windless night in the summer in 1983. Although Carmen thinks her marriage to Matt might be just a “little bit of a mistake,” she goes ahead with it anyway, walking into a whole new world even though Matt seems like a stranger. Everything about the evening feels a bit odd, mainly because Carmen’s sister Alice and her lover, Maude, and brother Nick and his girlfriend, Olivia, are far too preoccupied with majestic, drug-fuelled sex to properly participate in their older sister’s wedding.
Nick and Olivia, both high as kites, are sitting in the front seat when the car slams into ten-year-old Casey Redman, her body thudding onto the hood in a jumble of knees and elbows, her face and eyes frozen in surprise. While Olivia takes the lion’s share of the blame--“she was driving and she was stoned”--a perfect confluence of events coalesce into tragedy, especially after police find her tapestry bag filled
with various baggies of grass and hash and pills. Everyone else is apologetic, making feeble excuses for being distracted, too tired or too stoned and “goofed-up on sex.”
In small, synchronized motions, Anshaw shepherds us through the remaining years, gently twisting fate and circumstance while delicately shifting the focus of the story through the interior monologues of Carmen, Alice, Nick, and to a lesser extent, Olivia. We can envisage the aftereffects of that fateful night, and Anshaw subtly portrays the guilt and complicity as each individual attempts to manage their unwieldy burdens, the anger eventually disintegrating in the face of the most valuable of relationships between siblings.
A gifted artist, Alice loses herself in her portraits of Casey Redman in different poses and successive ages, always wearing the thin madras shirt and cutoffs, the only clothes Alice ever saw her wear. After the accident, Alice struggles along in her musty loft, giving Maude a wide berth even when she seems to be lost in the sparkly aspect of Maude. A glamorous actress and model, Maude lays claim to Alice as if she and Maude and the accident are tied in an “elaborate knot.” While Alice feels as though she
has yet to face her true punishment for that night, Nick blows off a gifted career in astronomy on account of drugs, and Carmen devotes her world to the social contract, reaching out to those in need, firm in her solidarity
with the oppressed and for the downtrodden.
Carmen’s serious approach to every aspect of life--motherhood, her job at a women’s shelter, and her political activism--fuel Anshaw’s plot, allowing Carmen to anchor the tale in a future that turns out to be filled with the perilous aftereffects of her parents' narcissism and abuse. The story is imbued with the dramas of Alice and Maude’s affair, Carmen’s “blue puddle of doubt” over her new husband, Rob, and Nick's mental anguish, the years of chemical abuse leaving him embittered and edgy--and all alone.
Heartfelt and raw, Carry the One is a passionate account of lives defined by great possibility. Our friends and our neigbors, these people are at once vulnerable and strong, and also richly human, given to the deep feelings of loyalty, kinship, honor and familial love.