It was a case of reading deja vu when I began Carry the One by Carol Anshaw. It starts with a wedding and a fatal car accident, just like Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman but the similarities end there.
The story begin’s with the final hours of 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.
“Its tires had stopped spinning, the passengers inside were as still as sacks of flour. This was a small inhalation, a bracing for the immediate future, which was racing in.”
For the next twenty-five years, those involved, including Carmen’s brother, Nick, her sister, Alice and her new sister-in-law, Maude, connect and disconnect and reconnect with each other and their victim.
“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.”
Anshaw deftly injects moments of grief throughout the story. They take you by surprise – some a mere mention, some lengthier descriptions of remorse, guilt and grief. It’s incredibly effective because it’s real. If you’ve ever grieved for someone, particularly if they had an unexpected or traumatic death, you know if never ‘goes away’. You can be coasting along and then out of the blue something triggers a moment, a memory and the pain of the death is raw all over again – Anshaw has captured that and introduced it in subtly different ways with each of her characters.
“Gabe was picking up his backpack when a car came around the corner way too fast. Carmen reflexively reached out the window and pulled him flat to the side of the car – a rush of relief at having gotten him out of harm’s way, followed by a vague drift of guilt for protecting him where she had failed the girl.”
There are lots of characters in this book but thanks to Anshaw’s succinct style you get to know them very quickly. I particularly liked Nick – junkie and gifted astronomer – whose burden is perhaps slightly greater to bear than the others. I also liked Gabe, Carmen’s son. One small scene at the end of the book when Gabe, now and an adult, sees his mother from a distance, resonated with me –
“If she had looked instead through the window of the train, she might have glimpsed his huge, crazy love for her, before he recalibrated his expression, turning down the volume to what was bearable in the give and take between them.”
There’s a nice bohemian element to Carry the One and it seemed fitting to play to that when deciding on the perfect accompaniment for this book. I haven’t gone one hundred percent hippy-hippy-mung-beans although a quinoa salad might seem that way. This salad recipe looks good but an acquaintance of mine makes a truly sensational quinoa salad that includes cubes of roasted pumpkin, feta, roasted tomatoes, pine nuts, zucchini and orange zest.
3.5/5 I would have given Carry the One a four, were it not for the ending. I can’t say much without giving it away but I would have preferred something less ‘mystical’.