Western-style burgers and pizza aren’t the only things Beijing has that our little (okay, not little, but non-connected) outpost of Chengdu lacks, although filling up on both this last weekend was a treat. No, we are also missing a true English-language bookstore, which means I’ve been deprived of shelves upon shelves of novels, memoirs and travel writing for months now. (Yes, I’ve got my Nook and do a good deal of book downloading on it, but there is something special about thumbing through a book off the “new releases” shelf or the “employee favorites” table that is lost in the translation to digital reading.) My trip to the capital this last weekend not only did some serious damage to my waistline (thank goodness for skirts with stretchy waists!), but also to my pocketbook (thank goodness for per diem!).
One of my treasures from this outing was Carol Anshaw’s release from last fall, Carry the One. (No worries my math-phobic friends. The title is in no way a reference to adding large numbers by hand!) In this newest novel by Anshaw, the reader is taken on a multi-decade tour of the lives of a group of friends who share a bond after all are present for a terrible disaster. While some are able to come to terms with what happened on that fateful night, not ever necessarily forgiving themselves for the pain that was caused, but creating lives of their own beyond the tragedy, others circle back to that night over and over, in a downward spiral that only ends in more pain.
Love is found and lost. Relationships grow and ebb. Careers are built and tumble down. But through it all, this core group of characters (friends is a bit of a stretch, especially as time goes on) are reunited over and over, always being reminded of the terrible bond they share.
I must admit that I wasn’t instantly drawn to the narrative of Carry the One. I found the ensemble cast hard to keep track of for the first few chapters and I wasn’t sure I would ever get them straight in my mind. But, not long after I considered the need to make a chart (thankfully I was able to contain myself and not get that crazy), the storylines diverged enough that each individual became unique and separate from the whole, while still being connected to the main tale. By the end of the book, I was definitely drawn to some characters and their personal struggles to deal with the shared tragedy, while I was disgusted at how others chose to profit from the pain of someone else. Creating such strong feelings about the players, whether positive or negative, is the mark of a great writer.
Like a wheel, with the central hub being the fateful night of the first chapter, each character spins off as a spoke, creating a life of their own, yet never being able to fully shake their shared nexus. Carol Anshaw’s latest creation, Carry the One is a powerful narrative of pain and loss and the desire for redemption and healing, easily earning a solid: