Carry the One

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Overview

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, craft their lives in response to this single tragic moment. 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 ...

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Carry the One: A Novel

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Overview

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, craft their lives in response to this single tragic moment. 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 calamities and triumphs 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 each other than we’d expect. As they seek redemption through addiction, social justice, and art, Anshaw’s characters reflect our deepest pain and longings, our joys, and our transcendent moments of understanding. This wise, wry, and erotically charged novel derives its power and appeal from the author’s exquisite use of language; her sympathy for her recognizable, very flawed characters; and her persuasive belief in the transforming forces of time and love.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The one that must be carried when the Kenney siblings add themselves up is the girl who was hit and killed when Nick and Alice were driving home, stoned and stupid, from their sister Carmen’s wedding. That’s the first chapter: the rest of the novel and the rest of their lives—sex and drugs and prison visits, family parties and divorce, raising teenagers, painting, politics, and addiction—play out with that guilt and loss forever in the background. Anshaw has a deft touch with the events of ordinary life, giving them heft and meaning without being ponderous. As the siblings’ lives skip across time, Carmen’s marriage, shadowed by the accident, falls apart; painter Alice’s career moves forward unlike her life, as she remains stuck on the same woman, her former sister-in-law; and astronomer Nick fights, with decreasing success, his craving for drugs. Funny, touching, knowing—about painting and parents from hell, about small letdowns and second marriages, the parking lots where people go to score, and most of all, about the ways siblings shape and share our lives—Anshaw (Seven Moves) makes it look effortless. Don’t be fooled: this book is a quiet, lovely, genuine accomplishment. (March)
From the Publisher
“This deceptively casual novel is both intimate and mysterious, frank and elusive, full of the stuff of life—love, lust, drugs, dogs, marriage, children, divorce, art, prisons, and politics—while haunted every shimmering page of the way by the death of a young girl, whose ghostly presence poses one of this novel’s compelling questions: how can we disentangle old knots when new ones are being tied with every passing day?”—Scott Spencer, author of Man in the Woods and Endless Love

“Featuring Carol Anshaw's trademark warmth, wit and erotic subtlety, Carry the One is loopy and funny, sad and complex. Painterly, lifelike, it provides grownup pleasure.”—James McManus, author of Positively Fifth Street

“It’s my birthday and the phone rings and I don’t want to answer because I am reading Carol Anshaw’s Carry the One, and how can reality compare?”—Nicole Hollander, creator of “Sylvia”

“A laser-focused, compulsively readable tale of chance and fate with a big brain, sharp tongue, and huge heart. . . . This book is undeniably hip, but it’s not the hip of Urban Outfitters knit caps or fixed gear bicycles. Carry the One has its finger on the pulse of the . . . human condition. That’s what makes it hip with superpowers. That’s what makes it the platonic ideal of cool.”Kit Steinkellner, bookriot.com

“Anshaw has a way of writing that nails the psychology of humans. She explores the complicated relationships between men and women, sister and brother, mother and daughter, by breaking wide open inhibitions, those sticky boundaries that hold us back and that pesky fear business that keeps us hiding in our closets. . . . It is intense, sweet, honest, and hopeful, all at the same time.”—redheadedbookchild.com

Library Journal
In her fourth novel (after Lucky in the Corner), award-winning writer Anshaw presents memorable characters whose lives have been affected by a single tragedy, which results in heartbreak and missed second chances. Twenty years earlier, siblings Alice and Nick leave their sister Carmen's wedding at 3 a.m., stoned, tipsy, and unfamiliar with the dark country roads; Olivia, Nick's girlfriend, is driving. A few miles on, Olivia hits and kills a girl walking on the side of the road. Over the years, the accident is always in the background for all the characters. Alice, a successful artist, goes in and out of lesbian relationships and obsessively paints more than a dozen portraits of the girl who was killed. Carmen's marriage does not last, and she buries herself in worthy causes. Olivia serves a brief prison sentence and then leaves Nick because of his drug habit. Nick, now a promising astronomer, is the one who broods the most deeply over the past. VERDICT Anshaw deftly depicts family ties broken and reconnected, portraying the best and the worst of this group of eccentrics. Recommended for readers of well-crafted literary fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 9/23/11.]—Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Grand Junction, CO
Kirkus Reviews
From a 1983 wedding through Election Day 2008, Anshaw (Lucky in the Corner, 2002, etc.) tracks a Chicago family unsettled by a fatal accident. It's no accident that the driver of the car that kills 10-year-old Casey Redman is the extremely stoned girlfriend of Nick, brother of the bride. Nick's growing addiction is one of the subplots in a tender but often somber story centered on his family. His sister Carmen, whose marriage to Matt sets the plot in motion (and doesn't last long), is a political activist, marginally more acceptable to their deeply conventional mother Loretta than sibling Alice, an artist and lesbian who suffers an agonizing passion for Matt's sexually conflicted sister Maude. At least Carmen produces a child, while Alice has made the mistake of competing with their father Horace, an egocentric, domineering painter. Olivia, the stoned driver, goes to jail and straightens up; for a while after she gets out, it seems she'll keep Nick in line, but he loves getting high too much. Nick, Alice and Carmen are all haunted by memories of the dead girl—Alice knows her series of paintings of Casey are her best work but refuses to show them—yet Anshaw doesn't suggest the accident fundamentally changed the arcs of their lives; her understanding of human fallibility and existential contingency is too subtle for that kind of artistic determinism. Instead, she quietly follows her characters through the usual stuff of growing up and growing older: marriages, breakups, material success and spiritual uncertainty. Not since Roxana Robinson's Cost (2008) has a novel so bluntly depicted the impact of addiction on a family, but that isn't the whole story here. Loving but judgmental Carmen and skittish but fundamentally sound Alice have their own odysseys to pursue; Carmen's evolving relationships with Gabe, son from her first marriage, and with Rob, the second husband who's not at all what she thought she wanted, are particularly sensitively drawn. Sharply observed and warmly understanding—another fine piece of work from this talented author.
Michiko Kakutani
…beautifully observed…[Anshaw] intimately dissects how one event or choice can alter the trajectory of a life, how a fork in the road can lead to wholly unexpected and divergent outcomes…Set partly in Chicago, Carry the One spans some 25 years…and gives the reader a resonant, Big Chill-like look at how time affects relationships, tipping emotional dominoes one way or another within a family or circle of friends. Though the novel grapples eloquently with the many sadnesses of life—guilt and grief and disappointment—it does so with lyricism and humor.
—The New York Times
Sylvia Brownrigg
…moving and engaging…Within a chapter it's clear that Anshaw has written not only a funny, smart and closely observed story, but also one that explores the way tragedy can follow hard on celebration, binding people together even more lastingly than passion…I found myself wishing Carol Shields were…still around to read [Carry the One]. I think she would have enjoyed a work of fiction that has so much in common with her own: both she and Anshaw give readers the reward of paying close, forgiving attention to ordinary people as they illuminate flawed, likable characters with sympathy and truth.
—The New York Times Book Review
The Barnes & Noble Review

Carol Anshaw wastes no time in setting the world to spinning in Carry the One, her wonderful and often funny fourth novel. It's 1983, moments after Carmen and Matt's wedding, held in the backyard of a hipster farmhouse in the Wisconsin boonies. Carmen's sister, Alice, and Matt's sister, Maude, are in an upstairs bedroom, making out. Carmen's brother, Nick, only nineteen and already a brilliant grad student in astronomy, is in the attic with his stoner girlfriend, Olivia. Nick's wearing a wedding dress, Olivia's in a powder-blue tux, and they're both out of their minds on mushrooms. Carmen, meanwhile, dressed in an "ironic red" bridal gown and visibly pregnant, is having second (and third) thoughts about her sudden marriage.

At 3 a.m., Carmen and Matt watch gratefully as their siblings and Tom, a musician friend, get into Olivia's car. Though Olivia's too wasted to drive, Nick's too high to care. Alice and Maude, "softened by sleepiness and lust," can't wait to climb into the back seat and back into each other's arms. And Carmen, eager for everyone to leave, ignores the druggy warning signs and waves the car down the road. The accident that follows mere moments later not only kills the ten-year-old girl who was crossing the road but forever alters — and connects — the occupants of the car.

As Alice says later, years later, when the musician friend exploits the accident and writes a ballad to stoke his flagging career, "I hate that it doesn't matter if we see each other. There's still this connection, between me and him because we were both in the car. Like in arithmetic. Because of the accident, we're not just separate numbers. When you add us up, you always have to carry the one."

That's what Anshaw does in this novel, fills in the characters, adds up their experiences, then spins out their stories in time. It's about ordinary lives in the contemporary world, territory noisily claimed in recent years by Jonathan Franzen and Dave Eggers and, a bit more gently, Jeffrey Eugenides. But unlike Franzen, who invents unlikable characters and then sneers at them, or Eugenides, who encrusts his creations with enough foibles and quirks that they sometimes slip from sight, Anshaw grounds her people in humanity. She clearly loves them yet doesn't shield them from their destinies.

Carmen's story opens the book, and though we're willing to follow her through the decades, it's Olivia and Nick and Alice who are the standouts. Of all the people in the car that night, Olivia does the most formal penance by spending a few years in prison. Nick, whose genius for parsing the infinity of space brings him joy and anguish, moves slowly from drug user to white-knuckled abstainer to unrepentant addict. In time, it is Alice who emerges as the lead character, locked in a struggle with an addiction of her own. Out as a lesbian, no small feat in 1983, Alice is in thrall to Maude, who remains closeted. Alice finds herself helpless to say no as her unpredictable lover blows in and out of her life.

While Alice's love life suffers from one obsession, her art work — she's a gifted painter — benefits from another. Soon after the accident, she begins to make portraits of the dead girl. They come to her fully formed, paintings of the girl at ten, then eleven, then twelve, as a teen, as a young woman, and onward through her life. Alice knows she'll never exhibit them, and that she'll never stop making them.

This was the central point of her art now, to record the girl's unlived life. Also, these would be her best paintings. She knew this already. She could see a whole world of paintings ahead of her that she wanted to make, and she would make them, but none would be as good as the Casey Redman paintings. She wasn't sure if this was a gift, or a sentence.
Anshaw, who has said in interviews that her goal with Carry the One was to create a concentrated story within a sweep of time, lets the novel's chapters cycle through the characters and stutter through the years. Now it's Nick's story, now Olivia's, then Alice's, then Carmen's, then Nick's again. More than twenty-five years pass this way, and the shadow of the accident not only keeps pace, it expands.

Carmen muses about the Big Bang theory of the universe: "From Nick, she knew that the bigness started very, very, very small. But extremely compressed. In the moments before the bang happened, the whole universe was the size of a dime." In the Big Bang that is Carry the One, Anshaw takes us from small to large and back again, a page-turner of a universe built with deceptive ease and more than a bit of grace.

Veronique de Turenne is a Los Angeles–based journalist, essayist, and playwright. Her literary criticism appears on NPR and in major American newspapers. One of the highlights of her career was interviewing Vin Scully in his broadcast booth at Dodger Stadium, then receiving a handwritten thank-you note from him a few days later.

Reviewer: Kellman, Steven G.

Reviewer: Veronique de Turenne

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451636888
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 3/6/2012
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 1,419,354
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Carol Anshaw is the author of Aquamarine, Seven Moves, and Lucky in the Corner. She has received the Ferro-Grumley Award, the Carl Sandburg Literary Arts Award for Fiction, and a National Book Critics Circle Citation for Excellence in Reviewing. She lives in Chicago.

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Read an Excerpt

Carry the One


  • hat dance

So Carmen was married, just. She sat under a huge butter moon, on a windless night in the summer of 1983, at a table, in front of the remains of some chicken cordon bleu. She looked toward the improvised dance floor where her very new husband was doing the Mexican hat dance with several other large men, three of them his brothers, other Sloans. Matt was a plodding hat-dancer; his kicks threw the others off the beat. In spite of this lack of aptitude, he was waving her over, beckoning her to join in. She waved back as though she thought he was just saying hi. She was hoping to sit out this early phase of her marriage, the mortifying dances segment.

“Don’t be discouraged. Everything will get better from here.”

This was Jean Arbuthnot, who sat next to Carmen, tapping the ash off her cigarette, onto her rice pilaf. Jean and Alice, Carmen’s sister, were among the artists who had taken over this old farm in the middle of Wisconsin. Jean played and recorded traditional folk music in a workshop on the edge of the property. Alice painted in a studio that occupied half the barn.

“Bad dancer doesn’t mean anything else, does it?” Carmen said. Matt was now doing a white-guy boogie to a bad cover of “Let’s Get Physical,” shooting his hands out in an incoherent semaphore. “Like being bad at parallel parking means you’re bad in bed?” She pushed back her chair. “I’ve got to pee. This is apparently a big part of being pregnant. I didn’t know that before.”

“Just use the outhouse.”

“I did that. Once.”

“You looked in. You can’t look in,” Jean said.

“I am going up to the house, where looking in is not a problem.”

Jean took Carmen’s hand for a moment, then let go. They were old friends, which made this brief touch a little slip of regular in the middle of these unfamiliar, celebratory events. Seated on Jean’s other side was Tom Ferris, a minor Chicago folksinger. At the moment he was banging his forehead softly on the table, to indicate he couldn’t abide the terrible cover band. Even though it was now definitely night, he was still wearing his signature accessory—Wayfarer shades. Today he sang while Carmen and Matt exchanged rings. Some Scottish ballad about a pirate and a bonny bride, a ship on stormy seas. Jean backed him up on a dulcimer. The two of them were fiercely committed to preserving traditional music. Superficially, that was their whole connection. Their covert connection was being tragic lovers, the tragedy being that Tom was married, with small kids. Carmen thought Tom was a total waste of Jean’s time, but of course didn’t express this opinion to Jean.

“I wonder where our backup bride has gone off to?” Carmen looked around as she stood up. Her brother, Nick, had shown up for the occasion in a thrift-shop wedding dress. His new girlfriend, Olivia, was wearing a Vegas-y, powder-blue tux. Some nose-thumbing at gender roles, or one of Nick’s elaborate, obscure jokes. Neither of them was in evidence among the crowd.

“Or your bridesmaids for that matter?” Jean observed, meaning Carmen’s sister Alice, Matt’s sister Maude. “Many lost siblings tonight.”

Carmen entered the farmhouse by the back door into the kitchen, which at the moment was vacant of humans, going about a life of its own. An ancient refrigerator emitted a low, steady buzz. The pump spigot dripped into a sink whose original porcelain was, in a circle around the drain, worn down to the iron beneath. A fat fly idled around the open window amid dangling pieces of stained glass. The room sighed out its own smell—a blend of burnt wood and wet clay. Trace elements of blackstrap molasses, tahini, apples, and dirty socks were also in the mix.

She passed through the living room with its brick-and-board bookshelves, walls filled with paintings by Alice and the other painters who lived here. In the corner, a giant wood stove hulked (the house had no central heating). The only undisguised piece of furniture was a ruby red velvet sofa from the 1930s, left by some distant, previous tenants. Everything else had been brought up from city apartments—cheap, rickety furniture draped with feed-sack quilts. A coffee table littered with seeds and rolling papers and a stagnant bong.

She headed up the stairs.

•  •  •

Alice was going to have to pull herself together, get herself outside, get her feet back on solid ground, she knew that. Instead she was lingering in surprising circumstances, having been dragged out of the ordinary progress of life into a hurtling, and (of course) sexual, detour. Which accounted for her not properly participating in her sister’s wedding reception. Not living up to her duties as maid of honor. Particularly, currently, not doing the Mexican hat dance, whose ridiculously peppy melody drifted up from the dance floor, through the screen of her bedroom window, audible in spite of the giant box fan wobbling on the floor. Rather she found herself naked, face down on her bed, pinned beneath the groom’s sister.

So far, this was the best moment of her life.

Draped over the edge of the bed, she looked down at their abandoned clothes. The parachute pants and slinky silk tops she and Maude bought together a couple of weeks ago—the day they met as bridesmaids—lay in a shimmery clutter on the plank floor. They hadn’t seen each other again until this afternoon when they walked together down the petal path, then stood side by side witnessing the ceremony. When Maude’s bare arm brushed against Alice’s for the third time, Alice decided not to take it as an accident.

And now, with a few intermediate steps, they had arrived exactly here. The evening was nearly as hot as the day it had come out of. The box fan had been running on high and was angled toward the bed, but still both of them were slick with sweat, also a little surprised to find themselves in their current situation. Still neither blamed it on the stunning weed they smoked just before the ceremony. Something had happened, they just weren’t sure what.

“We should probably get back out there.” Maude said this, but in an unconvincing voice, and without making a move to go anywhere.

“I don’t know what to say about this,” Alice said.

Maude was cupping Alice’s buttocks and had worked her fingertips lightly between Alice’s legs, teasing. “It could just be a one-wedding stand.”

While the fingers slid in, then out, Alice asked, “Could you stay over tonight?”

“I have a shoot tomorrow afternoon in the city.” Maude was in nursing school, but was also a model, for Field’s. Carmen had shown Alice a brochure. In it Maude’s hair was puffed and sprayed into a housewife helmet. The problem, according to Carmen, was that Maude was too gorgeous for a department store. They had to suppress her wild looks, tamp her down to pleasant and purchase-inducing. Then they could prop her next to coffee makers and bathroom vanities, in small-print dresses, quilted robes.

In this particular moment, Alice didn’t think she could ever get enough of her. She lay very still, listening for rejection in Maude’s excuse, but all she could hear were the soundless fingers. Then Maude said, “Maybe you could come back to the city with me? Stay overnight?” And Alice flooded with a goofy euphoria.

As they passed a cigarette back and forth while they shimmied back into their wedding gear, Alice was a slightly different person than she had been an hour earlier, more alive. Medical tests, she was sure, would show her pulse elevated, her blood thicker with platelets.

“We could maybe get a ride with my brother and his girlfriend,” Alice said. “I mean I don’t particularly want to spend the next three hours in your parents’ backseat with the Blessed Virgin statue. When they came up the drive, I thought she was some elderly relative.”

“They didn’t like the outdoor wedding concept. They wanted it to seem more like a church. What can I say? They’re religious maniacs.”

•  •  •

Above Alice and Maude, in the attic of the farmhouse, far enough up and away that the music and crowd noise outside was filtered through several parts rural nighttime, Alice and Carmen’s brother, Nick, stretched luxuriantly, aroused for a moment by the slippery sensation of satin between his legs. He felt sexy in his gown. Sexy and majestic. His arms, in the low light from a single bulb hanging within a Japanese paper shade, looked black. He had been working construction all summer; everything about him was either tanned or bleached white.

“I’m glad you found your way up here, into our small parallel universe,” he said. “To pay respect to the shadow bride.”

“And his groom,” Olivia said, tugging her lavender cummerbund down.

Their audience—temporary acquaintances, teenage cousins from the groom’s side—nodded. They were beached against huge floor cushions patterned with Warhol’s Mao and Marilyn Monroe. Neither kid had done mushrooms before. Nick had brought these back from a trip to Holland last year for an astrophysics conference in The Hague. He gave a paper on dark energy. He loved mushrooms.

One of the cousins had discovered that the shag carpet in the attic was tonal. “Listen,” he tried to make the rest of them understand, “if you press it here. Then here.”

Nick smiled and gave the kid a thumbs-up. Nothing he enjoyed more than turning people on. He’d skipped about half the grades along his academic way and so, although only nineteen, he was now a graduate student at the University of Chicago, studying astronomy. On his off nights he explored—through doors opened by hallucinogens and opiates—an inner universe. On drugs, he experienced no anxiety in the company of other humans, and did great with women. Olivia was new. At the moment, she was curled against him like a cat. They had only been seeing each other a few weeks. He had met her at a party. She was a mail lady. It was a job she said she could do better if she was high. Until Nick met her, he hadn’t thought of mail carriers going around stoned, but now he wondered if they all did. He could imagine them sorting so carefully, this letter here, that bill exactly there. Then walking their routes with deliberation, attuned to everything—the subtly changing colors of the leaves, the light rustle of the wind.

Olivia grew up in Wisconsin. “I know this stretch of road like the back of my hand,” she told him on the way up. So she drove while he just stared out at the wide fields edging the road, high with corn, low with soybeans. The sun-bleached sky, the tape deck whining out Willie Nelson, a hash pipe passing back and forth between them, angel flying too close to the ground. Could life get any better?

Now Nick looked down at her satin shirt spilling from the front of her tux jacket like Reddi-wip. He dipped a finger into the folds to test whether it was cloth or cream. He suspected Olivia would be new to him for a little while, then gone. Okay by him. He wasn’t looking for anything long term. He enjoyed moving through experiences, traveling without having to go anywhere. Other people and their lives were countries he visited. So far, Olivia’s main attraction, her local color, was the way she was always subtly touching him. The other excellent thing about her, of course, was her easy access to drugs.

•  •  •

The upstairs was a maze of narrow hallways. The only sounds were the heavy whir of a fan in one of the bedrooms, and a thumping bass coming down through the ceiling. Carmen found the bathroom, and used the toilet, which was painted to make it appear melted in a Daliesque way. She washed her hands in a paint-splattered sink with a large, misshapen bar of soap the color of glue. She inspected her makeup in the mirror, decided against using any of the extremely funky hairbrushes in a basketful on the windowsill, and made do with running wet fingers through her hair. She closed the toilet lid and sat sideways so she could press her forehead to the chilled porcelain of the sink. She suddenly found herself wobbly in the middle of all this tradition rigged up around something she wasn’t all that sure about. Child brides in India came to mind, kidnapped brides in tribal cultures, and mail-order brides for pioneer farmers. The vulnerable nature of bridehood in general. Still, there was nothing to be done about it now. Forward was the only available direction.

•  •  •

“We cut with the knife upside-down, then we feed a piece to each other.” Matt told Carmen this as if she was a foreign exchange student just off the plane. His mother had given him this information. She was the boss of this wedding, the commandant. The only thing Carmen got was the location—behind the farmhouse in the dreamy flower garden, a relic from some earlier incarnation of the farm. Wood and wire fences submerged beneath waves of climbing roses, Boston ivy, clematis. Stone paths mossed over, the surface of the small pond at the back burnished ochre with algae, paved with water lilies. Throughout the wedding, in the late hours of this afternoon, the scent rolled off the flowers in sheets that nearly rippled the air. A small threat of rain was held to a smudge at the horizon. Just this once, Carmen got perfection. Now though, things seemed to be slipping off that peak.

“Maybe we could just skip the cake-feeding thing?” she said to Matt, trying to gauge how drunk he was. A little, maybe.

“Oh, my aunts really want it,” he said. “I couldn’t say no to them.” Carmen could see these women gathering, clutching their Instamatics, tears already pooling in the corners of their eyes, tourists on an emotional safari, eager to bag a bride.

It suddenly occurred to her that Matt was a stranger. This was not some nervous, paranoid overreaction. The truth was she had known him only a few months, as yet had only his general outlines. He was a volunteer on the suicide hotline she ran. She trained him through nights drinking burnt coffee while talking down or bringing in or referring out kids on bad drug trips, guys who’d gambled away the family savings, women despairing in abusive marriages, gay guys and lesbians running the gauntlet of coming out—all of these callers sitting in motel rooms with some stash of pills they hoped would do the job, or looking out a high window they planned to use as a door.

Like Carmen, Matt believed in the social contract, in reaching out to those in need. He wanted to do his part; he was a good guy. Also she was pregnant, which was an accident, but they were both going with it. She was optimistic about heading into the future with him, but still, he was basically a stranger.

Now his aunts were clamoring—waving stragglers left and right—to gather a lineup of the bride and groom and his parents. Carmen’s parents were hipsters and atheists, way too cool for weddings. They were not present today.

•  •  •

Fatigue hit Carmen like a medicine ball; she was a bride, but also a woman in the middle months of pregnancy, and even ordinary days tired her out. Everyone had had their fun, and now she just wanted them all to go home. She wanted to be teleported to the squeaky bed in the room at a Bates sort of motel Alice had found for them nearby; it was slim pickings for tourist lodgings this far from a main highway. It was okay that it wasn’t a romantic setting. This was more of a symbolic wedding night. They’d been living together since February, sleeping together since about three weeks after they met. Tomorrow they were going fishing. Matt loved to fish and had brought rods and a metal box of lures. Carmen tried to imagine herself fishing. It was a whole new world she was walking into. Everything important was just beginning. Her earlier fears gave way to little slips of the giddiness that comes with potential.

•  •  •

Setting everyone off in the right direction, getting cars out of the yard by the barn, washing casserole dishes and ladles, and making sure they went off with their proper owners was a huge project, like getting the Conestogas out of Maryland, setting the wagon train off toward Missouri. Although it was nearly three a.m., the moonlight in the cloudless summer sky set up a weak, alternate version of day. Olivia’s cavernous old Dodge had room for a few stragglers, refugees from already-departed carloads. Tom Ferris stowed his guitar in the trunk—filled, Carmen noticed, with a high tide of what appeared to be undelivered mail—and got into the backseat along with Maude and—a little surprise—Alice, who Carmen wouldn’t have thought needed a ride anywhere, as she was already home. Carmen tried to make eye contact with her sister, but Alice ducked. She and Maude looked softened by sleepiness and lust; they were holding hands as they tumbled into the car one after the other, like bear cubs. Carmen was clearly way out of the loop on this.

She thanked Tom for singing at the ceremony. He stretched himself a little ways out the car window to bless Carmen with a sign of the cross. “I only perform at weddings of people I think were made for each other. My blessing on you both.” Almost everything Tom said came off as pompous.

She walked around to see how her brother was doing—still pie-eyed on something. He had twisted himself so the back of his head rested on the frame of the open passenger window. The sky was alive with stars and he was lost in them, like when he was a kid. Carmen pinched his ear, but he didn’t so much as blink. She couldn’t get a read on Olivia, who was starting up the engine, which faltered a couple of times before kicking in and required a bit of accelerator-tapping to keep it going.

“You okay?” Carmen asked her, peering past her brother so she could get a better look.

“Oh yes,” Olivia said brightly, maybe a little too brightly, but then Carmen didn’t know her well enough to know how she usually was at three in the morning. “Everything’s copacetic.” She flipped Carmen a little salute of confidence, and shifted into drive.

Carmen watched them weave down the long dirt road that led to the highway. They were the last of the guests to go. Billy Joel was on the car’s tape deck, “Uptown Girl” getting smaller and tinnier as the car drifted away, Nick’s head still poking out the open window. Carmen could see only the vague yellow of the car’s fog lamps ahead of it. “Hey!” she shouted. “Your lights!”

When the car disappeared from view, Matt said, “She’ll figure it out eventually.” And then he picked Carmen up.

“To the cave, woman!” he said, carrying her to his car, where he set her gently on the hood. He kissed her and said, “Don’t get me wrong. This whole thing was great. But I am so glad it’s over.”

“Oh, me too,” Carmen said. “All I want is a good-looking husband and a bed and about fifty hours’ sleep.” Some of the time when she talked to Matt, she felt as if she was in a movie scripted by lazy screenwriters. The two of them were still generic characters in each other’s stories. Girlfriend/boyfriend. Bride/groom. Wife/husband. But maybe that’s all marriage was—you fell into a groove already worn for you. You had a place now. The music had stopped and you’d gotten a chair.

•  •  •

By the time the car reached the end of the dirt road, everyone had grown quiet. Alice looked around at her fellow passengers. Maude was sleepy against her, within the circle of her arm. Nick was zoned out in the front, watching a mosquito flit up and down his forearm. Tom Ferris, on the other side of Maude, was staring out the side window, tapping down, pulling up, tapping down the door lock. Olivia turned left onto the two-lane—Route 14—and let it rip. Alice stuck her head a little ways out the window thinking there was nothing like traveling a country road at night. The sky was so clear, the moon so high and luscious.

A few miles on, the road dipped a little, then cut through a stand of trees. The leaves shimmered in the high moonlight, and now Billy Joel was singing “You’re Always a Woman to Me.” The first Alice saw of the girl was not her standing on the side of the road, or even running across it, but already thudding onto the hood of the car. A jumble of knees and elbows, and then her face, frozen in surprise, eyes wide open, huge on the other side of the windshield.

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Customer Reviews

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( 44 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 44 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2012

    1.67 Stars The premise of Carry the One is simple and s

    1.67 Stars

    The premise of <i>Carry the One</i>
    is simple and so very promising. Carol Anshaw begins her story <i>&rdquo; in the hours following Carmen&rsquo;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 each other and their victim. As one character says, &lsquo;&ldquo;When you add us up, you always have to carry the one.&rsquo;&rdquo;</i>
    However, my hopes for the novel were quickly dashed. I expected a good character driven story along the lines of those told by Joyce Carol Oates and Jodi Picoult because tragedies affect individuals so very differently. Some people may be so guilt ridden that they may carry their guilt to the extreme and self destruct, while others are driven to lead lives devoted to helping others while losing their own identity in their efforts.

    But Anshaw focuses primarily on Carmen, Nick, and Alice. Through each sibling&rsquo;s point of view the reader sees each going through varying stages of their lives without much thought to ten year old Casey Redman. Though Alice paints the little girl each year in the same clothes she wore the night she was killed as Alice thought she would be, Anshaw failed to explore the artist&rsquo;s need to paint the child. Alice&rsquo;s visit to the home where Anne Frank hid for 2 years was a missed opportunity given Alice&rsquo;s reaction to both dead girls. Anshaw was more interested in Alice&rsquo;s relationship with Maude (Matt&rsquo;s sister). The sex scenes between the two women were very uncomfortable to read.

    Carmen did not seem affected by the accident throughout her life. She never mentioned the accident and rarely commented when one of the nine &ldquo;so called&rdquo; friends commented upon it. Yet, Matt used the accident as a reason for the dissolution of their marriage; the other was he wanted <i>&ldquo;someone more Catholic. </i>
    the attitudes of both Carmen and Matt I dare say reflected those of the author and as a Catholic myself was very offensive. Annulment is a long process that begins at the pastoral parish level and ends at the Papal level. The reasons given by the author for their Annulment is not among the 5 conditions that the Church considers declaring a marriage null. Also, Carmen&rsquo;s journey toward radial activism is really not Catholic either. The scene at the Women&rsquo;s Center, while dramatic, did not ring true to me, since I&rsquo;ve never seen any violence during annual prayer vigilances I attend protesting the Roe v. Wade decision &ndash; my only activist action. Anshaw depicts her as strong woman, but she gets so very overwhelmed as a single mother, she has Carmen dressing Gabe in his school clothes at bed time so he would be ready when he awoke. What right minded woman, liberal or not, would do such a thing?

    Nick&rsquo;s story rings true to the novel&rsquo;s premise. He is the most affected by the tragic accident, other than the actual driver, Olivia. Nick is brilliant, but hopelessly addicted to drugs. His struggle with his addiction and his secret guilt is the most interesting of all of the characters. He marries Olivia, visits Casey&rsquo;s parents, and fights his brilliance out of that guilt through drugs and alcohol. We know the end of his struggles as they are beginning. Yet, Olivia is completely epigamic. She spends time in federal prison not for her role in Redman&rsquo;s death, but for the undelivered mail the Police found in the trunk of her car. She comes out of prison hard and isolated, accepting punishment for the child&rsquo;s death. She further atones for sin by deciding to have children. Why the author chose to place Olivia at the beginning and end of the novel is baffling, since she was integral to the story&rsquo;s premise. Also, Olivia was one of the more interesting characters.

    <i> Carry the One</i>
    was really the three siblings&rsquo; story. A coming of age story really about the effects of an abusive father and a not so present mother that really formed their choices in life, rather than how a tragic event changed their lives. Their characters were caricatures rather than three dimensional. Anshaw&rsquo;s writing was superb most of time with a few misses here and there. Her strong attitudes were present throughout the story, and I found them to be heavy handed, not entertaining at all. Good writing does not make a good book, but perhaps as a more conservative Catholic plebeian I am not her target audience.

    5 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2012

    Great start then fizzled

    I was a little disappointed in this book. I finished it but just because I wanted to see if anything interesting was going to happen after the great start. The premise was a good one but it felt disconnected- like there were too many separate stories going on that connected in some way but didn't feel connected. Some of the different story lines were boring and forced. It wasn't horrible, just blah. I wouldn't recommend it.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2012

    Moving and compassionate portrayal of difficult subject matter.

    Moving and compassionate portrayal of difficult subject matter. The writing is exceptional.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2012

    Quietly Powerful

    Carmen, Alice, and Nick are siblings who, together with some others to whom they are connected, must always "carry the one"--a ten-year-old girl who was hit and killed by a carful of stoned, drunk, or dazed guests to Carmen's wedding, driven by Nick's stoned wedding date, Olivia. Time forces the siblings, Olivia, and others connected to the tragedy to move forward, but the tragedy naturally effects their ability to do so.

    I really enjoyed this quietly powerful novel. I suppose one could just read it as just a story of what happens to these people on the surface, but I think the author is encouraging the reader to think about more complex themes. In particular, I think she is wrestling with the myriad ways in which we are connected to others, and the meaning of both a life, and those it touches. Each of us matters, to varying degrees, perhaps, and at different moments, to others, and I think this novel is gettting at the ways in which that truth is both thrilling, and frightening--as much as the opposite thought: that we might not matter at all. How do we live with that complexity, that mess, that rush, that warmth?

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 28, 2013

    Horrible book! I had high hopes for it, but it was so disjointed

    Horrible book! I had high hopes for it, but it was so disjointed and I ended up not even caring about the characters. Don't even waste your $4.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2012

    Hated it, but had to see how it ended.

    Main character is a lesbian and I felt that the author was overly obsessed with her sexual relationships. It was unblanced and unfocused.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2012

    I read this book as a book club selection. For me it was akin to

    I read this book as a book club selection. For me it was akin to watching the movie Leaving Las Vegas. It is okay to leave early, as staying for the ending did not enhance the experience. The format of the story telling, and story ultimately, was just not my cup of tea.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 28, 2012

    I did not enjoy this book.

    It took until page 140 before I became the tiniest bit invested in the characters and only finished because it was for a bookclub.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 4, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I have read glowing reviews of Carry the One that don't match up

    I have read glowing reviews of Carry the One that don't match up to my experience of reading it. I was immediately captivated by the story and the writing but felt the tale devolved into disconnected bits. The difficult upbringing of the three siblings felt tacked on. By the end, the characters are relating to so many external things rather than the heart of the characters and their relationships. For example, Carmen sits through a tedious dinner party (with a couple we have never met) feeling superior to the hosts who are obsessed with the details of their kitchen renovation. I liked Alice the best and, contrary to another reviewer here, felt the lovemaking scenes with her female partners were written with warmth and urgency. Easy to see that that is the character closest to the author.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 6, 2013

    I actually selected this book for my book club based on the summ

    I actually selected this book for my book club based on the summary. Boy was I wrong! I was almost too ashamed to show up to the monthly meeting after reading this book. After the first chapter, the story moves painfully slow. The characters have no redeeming qualities. In the end, I, along with my book club colleagues, were left feeling depressed and frustrated. Nice premise; it was just done ALL wrong. 

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2013

    I am not sure why I finished this book. The first chapter caug

    I am not sure why I finished this book. The first chapter caught my interest , but I soon found myself struggling to maintain interest . The characters were unlikable and the plot lines were boring and were generally depressing and disconnected. Some of the author's phrasing was lovely, but the book as a whole was not worth the effort I foolishly put into it. Don't bother.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2013

    Boring

    This book spans 25 years and I think it took 25 years to get through it. I have a hard time not finishing a book once I start it, but I had a hard time finishing this one. I would not recommend to my friends.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 1, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I don't even know where to start with this book. For a short sto

    I don't even know where to start with this book. For a short story, it was painfully long. I think the elements of the story would have worked better in a better format possibly. I just didn't care for how the story bounced around. I couldn't stand how in one chapter I was reading about this time frame and the very next chapter could jump anywhere from 1-5 years away and it didn't express that until at least a few paragraphs into the chapter. And the ending...what the heck kind of ending was that? It kind of came out of nowhere and it wasn't that of a great surprise ending. I would have been happy without the whole last chapter, or at least for it to have gone a completely different direction!

    The characters weren't the most likable characters in a book. I understand that the storyline is that of a tough nature, but it was so hard to fall in love with any of the characters!

    I do think that this story does have potential and does pull at some heart strings, however, I just couldn't stay interested and make myself happy about having to continue to read it!

    This just wasn't a book for me! I get the point behind it, really I do, and I think written differently, it could be brilliant!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2012

    Tried to finish....

    Honestly, I tried with this book and searched high and low for the connection between the main characters and the accident where the child was killed-- with little to no luck. I agree with the reviewer who said the main emphasis seemed to be on the lesbian lovers....ok, fine. But again, where is the connection with the title of the book. And even with the above flaws--I was so bored I smply could not finish; unusual for me.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2012

    Not a bad read

    Not the most riveting book I've ever read but not a bad read. Interesting, character based story line. Very well written.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 2, 2012

    This book started out with a very intriguing premise but wandere

    This book started out with a very intriguing premise but wandered around too much to hold my interest.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2012

    Rubbish

    I read a review of this book in mainstream media and thought it might be a good pick for my book club. I thought the storyline could be engaging and one which readers can identify with on some level in their life. I imagined it would be thought provoking and hold great potential for a lively discussion. I was sadly disappointed. No character development, contrived and unbelievable. People are better than the collective group of losers Anshaw spins a story of. I could not find a character I liked or cheered for. It reminds me of my university fiction writing class and all the undeveloped, unimaginative stories I had to suffer through. I rarely stop reading a book once I've started it but this was the exception. I could not stand to waste another moment of my life in this book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2012

    The night thst The night that covers me

    A great book. She writes stories that make it hard to put the book down.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 30, 2012

    Our book club members agreed that Carry the One was a disappoint

    Our book club members agreed that Carry the One was a disappointing read in which the characters were poorly developed. The majority of the characters weren't even likeable. While the quality of Anshaw's descriptive writing was commented on by the majority of our club members all agreed that even the quality of her writing wasn't enough to make us care about her characters and the storyline.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2012

    Ok - lost steam toward the end

    The concept of the story was interesting, but the story only turned out to be ok. I found myself finishing it just to finish it, but it felt a little anticlimactic when finally done.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 44 Customer Reviews

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