Using sparse prose-poetry and few characters, this small but intense novel goes directly into the core of family feelings. In emotive stops and starts, phrases that both stun and ignite, Raffel's intent is to expose one family's dysfunction. She succeeds with a disturbing melange of impressions, many of which deal with bodily fluids: dampness, tears, milk and blood amid constantly shifting images.
Elise, destitute, returns to the familial home, bringing along her ailing child, James. Searching for something undisclosed, Elise quietly rummages through the dank and neglected rooms of a house where the mother has long since died and the aunt (Elise's sister) remains to care for a rapidly failing father. Left attending the child each night, Aunt nurses her bruised heart with alcohol, telling him ever more sinister renditions of "The Three Little Pigs" in a fog of insensibility.
Confusion crowds each corner of the dilapidated house, along with soiled sheets, a bath filled with steaming hot water, condensation dripping down peeling walls, a bloody rash. "The shade of the lamp, the lady's skirt, was stained, the aunt conceded (to herself) - as if by heart or by light or by damp - all there, the aunt thought: thoughtlessness."
The author's intent is often obscured, half-truths or half-lies, everything covered with the dust of the past. There are strong intimations of buried secrets, secrets that have defined the lives of all the characters, perhaps even the child. It is unclear whether the aunt, in ministering to the fretful boy, finds salvation or destruction. Final conclusions are up to the reader. For myself, I don't know whether finishing Carrying the Body is a burden or a relief.