Carry the One, the latest offering from Carol Anshaw, is sneaky. The novel begins as a straight-forward description of a hippie-style wedding attended by the bride’s siblings but not her parents. It is here that the reader meets the story’s main characters: siblings Carmen (the bride), Alice, and their doper brother Nick, along with Nick’s stoned girlfriend Olivia, Tom (a folk singer with negligible fame), and Maude (the groom’s sister). Reminiscent of the wedding described by Mario Puzo in The Godfather, a good bit of steamy sex ensues amongst these six during the wedding reception.
All is well as this sleepy, stoned, and mostly sated crew piles into one car to make its way back to the big city and individual lives. Mere minutes later, their world is shattered when Olivia, who is behind the wheel of the car, strikes and kills a little girl trying to cross their remote highway. Anshaw presents even this tragic accident and its immediate aftermath in a straight-forward account. At that point, however, the novel shifts in a more literary direction in which the reader will follow each of these young revelers well into middle-age via a series of jumpy flashbacks.
Numerous lives are damaged by the way that ten-year-old Casey Redman dies. Her parents, of course, suffer most obviously and most immediately, but they are not the only ones to sustain crippling damage to their souls. Carmen, Alice, Nick, Maude, and Tom are perfectly happy to let Olivia take the entire blame for what happened. But for the rest of their lives, they struggle to keep their personal guilt hidden – often even from themselves. Tom, who seems least affected, walks away from the whole thing as quickly and cleanly as possible, only to resurface years later with an idea that will disgust the others. And, although Olivia takes the biggest hit of all, none of them will ever be able to forget what happened that night.
If nothing else, this group of friends is filled with overachievers. One will become a prominent astronomer, one a painter of international repute, one a model/actress, and one a diligent political activist. Each of them is, however, so insecure that they expect to find failure around the next corner. After all, they deserved to be punished, do they not?
Carry the One tells a sad story, one that is much more complex than it initially appears to be. It is about personal guilt, family, love, addiction, and recovery – recovery of several varieties, in fact. Even though only one of the characters expresses her guilt outwardly, the life of each has been forever limited by the painful burden that keeps them tied together.
Rated at: 3.5