Carry the One
Carol Anshaw, 2012
Simon & Schuster
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. (From the publisher.)
• Birth—March, 1946
• Where—Grosse Pointe, Michigan, USA
• Education—M.F.A., Vermont College of Fine Arts
• Awards—(see below)
• Currently—lives in Chicago, Illinois, and Amsterdam,
Carol Anshaw is an American novelist and short story writer. Her books include Lucky in the Corner, Seven Moves, Aquamarine, and Carry the One. Her stories have been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories in 1994 and 1998.
Anshaw was born in Michigan and grew up with her family, which happily divided its time between Michigan, where her father was a contractor, and Ft Lauderdale, Florida. In 1968 she moved to Chicago, marrying Charles J. White III in 1969, whom she divorced in 1985.
In 1992 she acquired her MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has won a National Book Critics Circle Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, an NEA Grant, an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship, a Carl Sandburg Award and Society of Midland Authors Award.
Anshaw teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is also a painter, currently working on a sequence of paintings of the novelist and poet, Vita Sackville-West.
Since 1996, Anshaw has been in a relationship with Jessie Ewing. The two divide their time between Chicago and Amsterdam. (From Wikipedia.)
Splendid...seductive...vivid.... In sketches, landscapes, and erotic etchings, [Anshaw] carries not just one but all her characters through a quarter century of adulthood. And she makes the task look graceful.
(Starred review.) 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.
(Starred review.) 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. —Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Grand Junction, CO
From a 1983 wedding through Election Day 2008, Anshaw (Lucky in the Corner, 2002, etc.) tracks a Chicago family unsettled by a fatal accident. [Characters] haunted by memories of the dead girl...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.... Sharply observed and warmly understanding—another fine piece of work from this talented author.
1. At her wedding reception, Carmen, in a moment of doubt about marriage, thinks: “Still, there was nothing to be done about it now. Forward was the only available direction.” How much of life is lived on this principle—taking the step that seems to come next? How often does this turn out to be following one bad decision with another based on the first? How does this apply to the characters in this book?
2. How do Carmen, Alice, and Nick change over the course of the novel? Which of them changes the most, which the least?
3. Even before the accident, the lives of everyone involved were entwined (by marriage, sex, family, friendship). Discuss how the nature of these relationships is affected by the accident. Does the accident strengthen any bonds? Does it weaken others? How does each character’s perceptions of the others change throughout the course of the novel?
4. As the driver of the car, Olivia is the only one who serves prison time for Casey’s death, and as Nick enviously reflects, “prison was forcing her to atone.” Do you think the others try to atone in their own ways? Do you think Nick’s envy of Olivia’s punishment is justified? Do you agree that, in a way, Olivia is the one who suffers the easiest punishment, because even though prison is brutal, it’s a physical, finite sentence for what they collectively did?
5. Nick’s is the only life that eventually falls completely apart. Do you think his drug use is related to his guilt, knowing he could’ve prevented Casey’s death? Why or why not?
6. Mourning and loss are themes of the book. How do the characters grieve differently? How does this grief affect their choices? In what ways can mourning be a selfish experience? What do the characters mourn besides the loss of Casey’s life?
7. Discuss the way parenthood and parent/child relationships are portrayed in the novel. Think about Gabe and Carmen; Rob and Heather; Nick, Carmen, and Alice’s relationships with Horace and Loretta; and even Terry and Shanna Redman.
8. Romantic relationships seem to be tough for all of the characters. Alice spends her time yearning for Maude (who cannot seem to decide what she wants) and sleeping with other women to fill the void, but once they are finally together, they fall out of love. Carmen’s first marriage fails, and she looks at her second as a “small mistake.” After Olivia leaves, Nick turns to prostitutes and never has a meaningful relationship again. Even Tom finds that his affair with Jean was the thing keeping his marriage together. Discuss these relationships and the dynamics within the couples.
9. Alice is deeply affected by her visit to the Anne Frank house, but when she tries to talk about it with Anneke, the curator politely changes the subject. “Anne Frank is complicated,” she says. What is it about the house that you feel touches Alice so deeply? Is this exchange applicable to Alice’s feelings about the accident?
10. When Kees Verwey sees Alice’s paintings of Casey, he says to her: “…You are honoring her with these, giving her a kind of life. What if these are the best paintings you will ever make?” Alice replies, “Then maybe not showing them is the terms of my atonement.” Do you agree with Verwey or with Alice? Do you think she should have shown them? Or do you think it would have been wrong to profit from Casey’s death, the way Tom profited from the song he writes about the accident?
11. When Nick visits Shanna Redmond, she says to him about Casey: “She was such a careless kid…Never looked both ways like I told her. You can tell them that. The others. Not that it was her fault. But it wasn’t all theirs either.” Do you think Nick ever passes this message along? Do you think it would have helped the others to hear it? Or at that point, was it meaningless, given all they had been through?
12. Alice feels Casey is dictating the paintings of her unlived life. Do you think she is? As with the ending of the book, do you feel information sometimes passes between the world of the living and that of the dead?
13. How much of our present is shadowed by our past? How long do we carry regrets forward?
(Questions issued by publisher.)
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