Saturday, July 14, 2012

Family Ties

Is it just a coincidence that in the last year I have read three novels that began with a wedding? Is this a literary convention? I'll admit that it is a handy way to get all your main characters together in a situation where the combination of stress/passion/alcohol may well trigger dramatic scenes. In the previous two – Jean Thompson's “The Year We Left Home” (Leaving Home) and Johnathan Dee's “The Privileges (How The Other Half Lives) – the weddings served as vehicles to launch characters into adulthood, but in Carol Anshaw's Carry The One a single powerful event on the night of the wedding alters the lives of all the characters in the novel.

Does tragedy bind people more closely than passion? The three Kenney siblings – bride Carmen, her brilliant but fragile brother Nick, and her older sister Alice, a talented painter – all have desires which pull them in different directions, but they are drawn together. Surviving a common childhood with parents who waiver between indifference and malevolence helps explain this bond. And they share the same crackling sense of humor. But for twenty-five years all their lives are colored by the same tragic accident, and each compensates in a different way.

Anshaw's humor and sympathy makes this book far more entertaining and less depressing than it may sound from my description. Her portrait of the complex network of emotions that ties the siblings to each other and to their shared tragedy is honest and powerful.

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