Carol Anshaw's novel has an intriguing premise: on the night of Carmen's wedding, her siblings and assorted friends end up driving under the influence on a dark country road and hit and kill a young girl. How do these lives move forward over 25 years with that tragedy on their hands? Or, as one of the characters says, how they account for themselves over the years when they always have to "carry the one" along with them?
Unfortunately, I'm not sure that question is answered for most of the players. There are two characters whose lives appear to be altered forever: Carmen's brother Nick, who falls deeper and deeper into drug addiction, and his girlfriend Olivia, who takes the fall for the tragedy and spends time in prison, coming out an altered person.
But the others? Carmen herself, pregnant at the time of the wedding, and her sister Alice, their parents? Hard to tell.
It made for a frustrating read. The book opens in 1983 at the wedding and concludes in 2008. A great deal happens in those 25 years: the characters fall in and out of love, marry, divorce, raise kids, develop careers, travel, the things people do in a lifetime. Much of the book focuses on Alice and her on-again/off-again years-long affair with Maude, but honestly, I couldn't see how the child's death had any effect on this affair. Alice is a painter who paints many pictures of the child, but eventually she stops, and, well, so much for that.
Carmen becomes a heavy-duty do-gooder, but we don't know anything about her before the wedding. Maybe that was just her personality.
I think part of the problem was the minimalistic narrative. This is a story that crying out for some soul searching, heart-wrenching thoughts and discussions, and they just never happened.
Even more troubling, as the book progresses across the years, it skips and jumps across time, and there's no noticeable change in most of the characters that can be tied back to their processing or not processing the child's death.
It did raise an interesting question to me. One chapter is devoted to 9/11. Absolutely nothing happens in terms of the characters. They just sit and watch it unfold. I thought, what a waste of a chapter. It felt gratuitous and forced. Then I thought, but how do you write a story that covers the last twenty years of the 20th century in America and not include 9/11? Finally, though, for me it came down to this: if you're going to use 9/11, and she could hardly have avoided it given the narrative structure, it needed to be a catalyst for someone in the book. In Carry the One, it's not.
In the end, not much of interest happened. I'm surprised I kept reading, but I was hoping somehow something would surprise me and move me. Not only did that not happen, but the final page even managed to tick me off by having an eye-rolling development.