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The Heat Lightning: Pill-Popping Astrologists, Activist Moms, and Lesbian Artists

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Pill-Popping Astrologists, Activist Moms, and Lesbian Artists

Carry the One

I try never to read reviews or jacket copy for books I plan to read. I felt comfortable that reading Lisa Schwarzbaum’s rave review in Entertainment Weekly wouldn’t spoil anything for me because Carol Anshaw’s Carry the One was nothing I would ever read. I didn’t have anything against it, I just saw the little girl in silhouette on the cover, thought “To-Kill-a-Mockingbird-lite” and moved on. Schwarzbaum’s review dispelled this impression. So now I’ll try to help you. Should you find yourself browsing – virtually or through the stacks – and come across Anshaw’s lovely book, you should buy it.

When tragedy strikes someone’s life, it’s the rare person who lives that tragedy every minute of every day. Accidents, chronic illness, the death of a loved one – sooner or later we incorporate them into our lives in order to keep living them. Anshaw knows this. She also knows some things are too big to completely wrap our minds around.

Still, what the Kenneys – Carmen, Alice, and Nick – do in these pages is live their lives. They don’t wallow, or have their actions pre-ordained by a ghost. The reader might wonder how much this attachment or that addiction has to do with the fatal, post-wedding car accident that opens this book, but the characters rarely look that deeply. They’re too busy longing and creating (Alice), settling and rallying (Carmen), seeking and avoiding (Nick), and it’s rare they ever let the memory of the dead girl bubble to the surface. If you’re expecting maudlin melodrama, don’t; this ride is rich and filled with humor.

Anshaw’s deft play with the written word is a joy – just ask the New York Times’ Michiko Kakutani – and she is a masterful storyteller. Each chapter represents a leap forward in time that would be jarring in the hands of a lesser author, but Anshaw makes it look easy. A lesser author would probably also want to share all the work put into writing the novel, giving us a thousand-page doorstop (I’m looking at you, Franzen). Anshaw uses 253 pages to span twenty-five years and never makes us feel like we’re missing out. Her scenes are complete and layered, the fat neatly trimmed, the dialog, characters, and relationships just so, the emotional truths pitch-perfect. There’s a lot here, and it’s all working.

Here’s Carmen, on letting the militant fire of her youth fade:

She had not moved Jeff to think in a larger way about the world. She only pissed him off and put some final punctuation on an already run-on friendship. She was losing her belief in the possibility of changing people. It wasn’t so much that they were in opposition to her, or that they held their own beliefs so strongly. Rather, they appeared to have lost interest in belief itself, as though belief were tennis, or French film. And this was so discouraging Carmen had to put a lid over the abyss or risk falling in.

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