The Condition

The Condition

3.3 56
by Jennifer Haigh
     
 

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The Condition tells the story of the McKotches, a proper New England family that comes apart during one fateful summer. The year is 1976, and the family has embarked on their annual vacation to Cape Cod. One day, Frank is struck by his thirteen-year-old daughter, Gwen, standing a full head shorter than her younger cousin. At that moment he knows something is

Overview

The Condition tells the story of the McKotches, a proper New England family that comes apart during one fateful summer. The year is 1976, and the family has embarked on their annual vacation to Cape Cod. One day, Frank is struck by his thirteen-year-old daughter, Gwen, standing a full head shorter than her younger cousin. At that moment he knows something is terribly wrong with his only daughter.

Twenty years after Gwen's diagnosis with Turner's Syndrome—a genetic condition that traps her forever in the body of a child—all five family members are still dealing with the fallout. Frank and Paulette are acrimoniously divorced. Billy is dutiful but distant. His brother, Scott, awakens from a pot-addled adolescence to a soul-killing job and a regrettable marriage. And Gwen is silent and emotionally aloof, until she falls in love for the first time. And suddenly, once again, the family's world is tilted on its axis.

Compassionate yet unflinchingly honest, witty and almost painfully astute, The Condition explores the power of family mythologies.

Editorial Reviews

People (People Pick)
“[A] rich, enjoyable third novel. . . . Haigh sets many balls in motion . . . [and] the McKotch clan evolves believably, and satisfyingly.”
People
“[A] rich, enjoyable third novel. . . . Haigh sets many balls in motion . . . [and] the McKotch clan evolves believably, and satisfyingly.”
Chris Bohjalian
Haigh has demonstrated in her previous two novels, Mrs. Kimble and Baker Towers, an unerring ability to chronicle the ways people delude themselves—those lies we tell ourselves daily to survive. And in The Condition her touch with characterization is usually sure. Occasionally, Paulette's monumental repression and Billy's gay domesticity feel a tad cliched, but generally Haigh's characters are layered and authentic. Moreover, one would have to have a heart of stone not to care for them and follow their small sagas…I cared so much for each member of the McKotch clan that I was…happy to have spent time with them, and to have witnessed them growing up and old and, finally, learning to accept who they are.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Haigh's third novel relates the heartbreaking story of Gwen McKotche, a young woman inflicted with Turner's syndrome, which will forever trap her in the body of a child, and her family's trials and tribulations. With flawed yet honest and caring characters, Jennifer Van Dyck relates the story in a believable voice drenched in sadness without editorializing. Van Dyck delivers a solid reading that displays her knack for emotional storytelling while still allowing her audience the privilege of commanding their own emotions for the majority of the tale. Van Dyck never tries to force sympathy and tears from her audience, but will have no problem bringing them to the surface of each listener. A Harper hardcover (Reviews, Feb. 18). (July)

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Kirkus Reviews
PEN/Hemingway Award winner Haigh's third novel (Baker Towers, 2005, etc.) focuses on the now disconnected members of a once close-knit New England family. The summer of 1976 is the last Paulette and Frank McKotch and their three children will spend together as a family at her parents' Cape Cod cottage before the house is sold and Frank and Paulette are divorced. Cold but needy Paulette, who dropped out of Wellesley to marry, and warm but self-centered Frank, a scientist and professor at MIT, are sexually incompatible-he wants more and she wants less. Their already shaky marriage falls apart when their 13-year-old daughter Gwen is diagnosed with a chromosome deficiency that keeps her from developing physically in puberty; Frank wants to pursue medical solutions while Paulette wants to protect Gwen from pain. Cut ahead 20 years to the mid-'90s. Frank and Paulette have never remarried. Both are painfully lonely. Bill, their oldest son, has become a cardiologist in Manhattan. He is in a genuinely loving relationship with another man, but he keeps his sexuality a secret from his parents, and completely avoids Frank, who always favored him. Youngest son Scott, the family black sheep, has fallen into marriage with a woman whose coarseness is portrayed almost as a moral deficiency. At 30, teaching at a mediocre private school, he barely supports her and their two children. Although he lives in nearby Connecticut, he too rarely sees his parents or siblings. At 34, Gwen still has a child's body. She lives a lonely life working in a museum. On a vacation in the Caribbean, Gwen falls in love with her guide. Paulette, a conventional snob and overly protective mother, sends Scott to find Gwen, settingin motion a chain of reactions that ultimately force each of the McKotches to reexamine their relationships with each other and with themselves. After the lovely opening, filled with genuine insight and touching lyricism, Haigh overly orchestrates her characters' lives. Agent: Dorian Karchmar/Lowenstein-Yost
Janet Maslin
“THE CONDITION is something rare. . . . Ms. Haigh has a great gift for telling interwoven family stories and doing justice to all the different perspectives they present. . . . A remarkable accomplishment.”
Wall Street Journal
“[Haigh] looks unflinchingly at family ties—the kind that limit and the kind that can actually liberate. The Condition is a satisfying feat of literary choreography.”
Andre Dubus III
“Jennifer Haigh illuminates the dark tangle of desire and deed that is the family, that crucible we so often yearn to flee yet keep coming back to again and again. THE CONDITION is unsentimental, compelling, and moving, and I urge you to read it!”
Tom Perrotta
“The ailment at the center of this remarkable novel is the human condition itself. Jennifer Haigh has written a sprawling, emotionally gripping account of one family’s troubled history, enlivened by her formidable intelligence and deep insight into her characters’ hearts and minds.”
People Magazine
"[A] rich, enjoyable third novel. . . . Haigh sets many balls in motion . . . [and] the McKotch clan evolves believably, and satisfyingly."

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060755799
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
06/30/2009
Series:
P.S. Series
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
416
Sales rank:
701,116
Product dimensions:
5.34(w) x 8.02(h) x 0.99(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Condition

1976

The Captain's House

Summer comes late to Massachusetts. The gray spring is frosty, unhurried: wet snow on the early plantings, a cold lesson for optimistic gardeners, for those who have not learned. Chimneys smoke until Memorial Day. Then, all at once, the ceiling lifts. The sun fires, scorching the muddy ground.

At Cape Cod the rhythm is eternal, unchanging. Icy tides smash the beaches. Then cold ones. Then cool. The bay lies warming in the long days. Blue-lipped children brave the surf. They opened the house the third week in June, the summer of the bicentennial, and of Paulette's thirty-fifth birthday. She drove from Concord to the train station in Boston, where her sister was waiting, then happily surrendered the wheel. Martine was better in traffic. She'd been better in school, on the tennis court; for two years straight she'd been the top-ranked singles player at Wellesley. Now, at thirty-eight, Martine was a career girl, still a curiosity in those days, at least in her family. She worked for an advertising agency on Madison Avenue—doing what, precisely, Paulette was not certain. Her sister lived alone in New York City, a prospect she found terrifying. But Martine had always been fearless.

The station wagon was packed with Paulette's children and their belongings. Billy and Gwen, fourteen and twelve, rode in the backseat, a pile of beach towels between them. Scotty, nine and so excited about going to the Cape that he was nearly insufferable, had been banished to the rear.

"God, would you look at this?" Martine downshifted, shielding her eyes from the sun. The traffic had slowed to acrawl. The big American engines idled loudly, the stagnant air rich with fumes. The Sagamore Bridge was still half a mile away. "It gets worse every year. Too many goddamned cars."

A giggle from the backseat, Gwen probably. Paulette frowned. She disapproved of cursing, especially by women, especially in front of children.

"And how was the birthday?" Martine asked. "I can't believe la petite Paulette is thirty-five. Did you do anything special?"

Her tone was casual; she may not have known it was a tender subject. Like no birthday before, this one had unsettled Paulette. The number seemed somehow significant. She'd been married fifteen years, but only now did she feel like a matron.

"Frank took me into town. We had a lovely dinner." She didn't mention that he'd also reserved a room at the Ritz, a presumptuous gesture that irritated her. Like all Frank's presents, it was a gift less for her than for himself.

"Will he grace us with his presence this year?"

Paulette ignored the facetious tone. "Next weekend, maybe, if he can get away. If not, then definitely for the Fourth."

"He's teaching this summer?"

"No," Paulette said carefully. "He's in the lab." She always felt defensive discussing Frank's work with Martine, who refused to understand that he wasn't only a teacher but also a scientist. (Molecular developmental biology, Paulette said when anyone asked what he studied. This usually discouraged further questions.) Frank's lab worked year-round, seven days a week. Last summer, busy writing a grant proposal, he hadn't come to the Cape at all. Martine seemed to take this as a personal slight, though she'd never seemed to enjoy his company. He's an academic, she'd said testily. He gets the summers off. Isn't that the whole point? It was clear from the way she pronounced the word what she thought of academics. Martine saw in Frank the same flaws Paulette did: his obsession with his work, his smug delight in his own intellect. She simply didn't forgive him, as Paulette—as women generally—always had. Frank had maintained for years that Martine hated him, a claim Paulette dismissed. Don't be silly. She's very fond of you. (Why tell such a lie? Because Martine was family, and she ought to be fond of Frank. Paulette had firm ideas, back then, of how things ought to be. )

In Truro the air was cooler. Finally the traffic thinned. Martine turned off the highway and onto the No Name Road, a narrow lane that had only recently been paved. Their father had taught the girls, as children, to recite the famous line from Thoreau: Cape Cod is the bared and bended arm of Massachusetts. The shoulder is at Buzzard's Bay; the elbow at Cape Mallebarre; the wrist at Truro; and the sandy fist at Provincetown.

Remembering this, Paulette felt a stab of tenderness for her father. Everett Drew had made his living as a patent attorney, and viewed ideas as property of the most precious kind. In his mind Thoreau was the property of New England, of Concord, Massachusetts, perhaps even particularly of the Drews.

"Is Daddy feeling better?" Paulette asked. "I've been worried about his back." Martine had just returned from Florida, where their parents had retired and Ev was now recovering from surgery. Paulette visited when she could, but this was no substitute for Sunday dinners at her parents' house, the gentle rhythm of family life, broken now, gone forever.

"He misses you," said Martine. "But he made do with me."

Paulette blinked. She was often blindsided by how acerbic her sister could be, how in the middle of a pleasant conversation Martine could deliver a zinger that stopped her cold: the backhanded compliment, the ripe apple with the razor inside. When they were children she'd often crept up behind Paulette and pulled her hair for no reason. It wasn't her adult life, alone in a big city, that had made Martine prickly. She had always been that way.

They turned off the No Name Road onto a rutted path. It being June, the lane was rugged, two deep tire tracks grown in between with grass. By the end of summer, it would be worn smooth. The Captain's House was set squarely at the end of it, three rambling stories covered in shingle. A deep porch wrapped around three sides.

The Condition. Copyright © by Jennifer Haigh. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are saying about this

Tom Perrotta
“The ailment at the center of this remarkable novel is the human condition itself. Jennifer Haigh has written a sprawling, emotionally gripping account of one family’s troubled history, enlivened by her formidable intelligence and deep insight into her characters’ hearts and minds.”
Chris Bohjalian
“Haigh’s characters are layered and authentic. Moreover, one would have to have a heart of stone not to care for them and follow their small sagas. . . . Haigh is such a gifted chronicler of the human condition.”
Andre Dubus III
“Jennifer Haigh illuminates the dark tangle of desire and deed that is the family, that crucible we so often yearn to flee yet keep coming back to again and again. THE CONDITION is unsentimental, compelling, and moving, and I urge you to read it!”

Meet the Author

Jennifer Haigh is the author of the short-story collection News from Heaven and four critically acclaimed novels: Faith, The Condition, Baker Towers, and Mrs. Kimble. Her books have won both the PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction and the PEN/L.L. Winship Award for work by a New England writer. Her short fiction has been published widely, in The Atlantic, Granta, The Best American Short Stories, and many other places. She lives in Boston.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Boston, Massachusetts
Date of Birth:
October 16, 1968
Place of Birth:
Barnesboro, Pennsylvania
Education:
B.A., Dickinson College, 1990; M.F.A., Iowa Writers' Workshop, 2002

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The Condition 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 56 reviews.
JosieKramer More than 1 year ago
I'm just going to rip into this book. I got this book, because it looked interesting. Reading about Turner Syndrome (something I knew nothing about) and how it affects a family appealed to me. I was up to page 100 before anything was mentioned about the disease. It's been a quick read, but it just talks about a family and what they are all about. So far nothing is jumping out at me. Page 123. Still nothing. Scott seems to be getting the most attention in this book and it's not really all that interesting. Page 169. Chapter 4 starts here. I hadn't realized it until then, but each chapter has about 4 sub-chapters. They are laid out like a normal chapter, but without a number. This turned me off (even more than I already was). Ooh here we go. We are finally talking about Gwen and how her condition affects her and her family. Four (4) pages later, we are done with the explanation. Nice. I finished this book, because by then I was invested in it. Sadly. This is a story about a family. A family like yours and mine. With our quirky relatives and secrets we all keep in death. It was an easy read, but really, who cares? I feel I could have gone to my neighbors and gotten a good story just as easily. There is NOTHING in this book that makes it different from anyone else's life. The Turner Syndrome isn't discussed with any detail. We aren't even told how Gwen dealt with it during her school years. It's just brushed over. We are told about her running away to a man on an island that she barely knows. Show me a woman that hasn't done that at least once in her life. We all fall for the mysterious man at some point. Nothing special there. The brothers each have their secrets, (Show me a family that doesn't) and the parents are divorced, but still speak to each other at time. Just your regular American family. Woop-de-doo Sorely disappointed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was deeply interested in reading this book about a family with its fractures and challenges and strengths within the family. It's always a good sign when I carry a book wherever I go just in case I have a moment to read. This was one of those books for me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I would just like to correct momof3's entry on this site. She states in her review that the author did not include information on treatment of Turner's Syndrome -- estrogen therapy and growth hormone. In fact, the author does write about this in a chapter in which Frank, the girl's father, is reflecting on the unsuccessful use of each of these treatments on his daughter. I just felt that should be cleared up. I found this to be a good, solid read. The book was well constructed, and I enjoyed the character development, as well as the window into New England living. The descriptions of Paulette's house, for instance, were so well written I felt as though I were seeing it with my own eyes.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this one was one smoothly written novel. From the start to the end, I thought it felt like going down the river on a windless and waveless day. One word of caution, this is not one of those books where you read through it quickly. Absorb every bit of it. That's the only way to capture all its wonders...
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1976, the marriage between Paulette and Frank McKotch is teetering on the brink of collapse because he wants sex and lots of it and she doesn't. They are spending the summer together with their three kids at Cape Cod with plans to sell the beach cottage when the vacation ends. However both are stunned to learn their thirteen years old daughter Gwen has been diagnosed with Turner Syndrome, a chromosome deficiency that keeps an adult in the body of a pre- puberty child. Gwen's parents disagree about how to proceed; Frank seeks medical answers while Paulette wants to keep Gwen safe. Two decades later, Frank and Paulette long divorced have never married again. Their son Bill lives with his beloved male partner and works as a cardiologist in Manhattan, but hides his sexual preference from his parents. Their youngest child Scott teaches school and is married with two kids. Gwen lives alone working at a museum. On a vacation, she falls in love with her guide. However, Paulette, still protecting Gwen, orders Scott to find his sister and bring her home. His mission forces each of the five McKotches to relook their relationships and their lives. This is an intriguing character driven tale that looks deeply at how a health condition impacts everyone in a family; even one that is dysfunctional. The cast drives the story line as each seems real though in many ways the rest of the family besides Gwen show their traits by how they act towards her. The key to this touching tale is the way Jennifer Haigh avoids turning THE CONDITION into a five tissue box soap opera; as readers will feel for Gwen who demands no tears as she is a self sufficient adult. Harriet Klausner
AlisonB More than 1 year ago
I'm astounded to see mixed reviews on this book. It was so amazingly well crafted. The prose was poetic and true and the dynamics in the family fascinating and very believable. I can't say that I agree with a previous reviewer that the use of setting was "fun". In my mind that doesn't even come close to giving the author enough credit. I live in Massahusetts and I couldn't believe how well written her descriptions of Concord, Cambridge and Cape Cod were-- and all the descriptions so relevant in building the characters in her story. Everyone I know who has read this book has loved it! I'll be looking for Jennifer Haigh's other novels.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this book down! I love the story of the family, and the writing. I definately recommend this book.
Avid_Reader_PA More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. I loved the characters and really hated for the book to end. This was the first book I had read by Ms. Haigh and I was so taken with her writing that I also bought Mrs. Kimble and Baker Towers. They are both winners! Enjoy this writer!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked the family and liked the story...it was good not great but all stories cant be great....worth yhe read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I WAS interested in how the family dealt with the daughter's Turner Syndrome (which I knew nothing about before the infamous Harriet's review). BUT, YET AGAIN HARRIET KLAUSNER SPOILED THE ENTIRE BOOK!!! B & N, PLEASE DO NOT LET THIS REVIEWER SPOIL ANOTHER BOOK FOR ME....THERE HAVE BEEN TOO MANY TO COUNT! SHE USED THE REVIEW SECTION TO SUM UP THE ENTIRE BOOK!! WHY WOULD I WANT TO SPEND ~$10 NOW AFTER THE WHOLE STORY HAS BEEN REVEALED!! BAN HARRIET KLAUSNER!!! Her review was only the 2nd review I read about the book. The 1st review was a let down from JosieKramer, so I was a little excited to see a 5 star.....sooo disappointing! I gave the book 3 stars because (1) you have to give a star rating before a review & (2) I didn't want to hurt nor help the review status of the novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It is very well-written and believable. Not exactly a heartwarming story, but a frank look inside of a troubled family as it evolves from the child-raising years through middle age and beyond.
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the_curious_reader More than 1 year ago
The title The Condition ostensibly refers to a genetic but not hereditary anomaly in the DNA of one family member, but it is my perception that it more broadly refers to the individual conditions of each family member and more broadly to the dysfunctional condition of the entire family, and ultimately to that which both blesses and curses us all, the universal human condition. In the McKoch family, daughter Gwen's condition is externally visible to the eye and therefore cannot be denied. As to father Frank, mother Paulette, and sons Billy and Scott, physically admirable specimens all, their conditions are internal and their lives spent in good part hiding from rather than dealing with them. Internally, Gwen is the most balanced of the group, though she, too, has her secrets. Jennifer Haigh, with exceptional talent, leads us to love these people even when each feels driven to react to life and family dynamics in unlovely ways, each according to their individual condition, as they learn to accept themselves and each other.
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