Carry the One
by Carry Anshaw
Published 2012 by Simon & Schuster
Read December 2012
When Jodie contacted me about her idea to have a group of bloggers read the Green Carnation Prize* short-list, I didn’t hesitate before choosing Carol Anshaw’s Carry the One. Mostly because I had attempted to read the novel before, but I ended up setting it aside when I realized it just wasn’t the right time to read the book. The Green Carnation Prize project was a good excuse to give it another chance.
Warning: This post contains discussion of actual events in the novel. Some might call them spoilers.
The Plot: After Carmen and Matt’s wedding, Olivia, Nick, Maude, Alice, and Jim drive off a little drunk and a little stoned. The car hits and kills a child, and Olivia, who was driving, is sent to jail. The book follows the characters’ lives over the next few decades of their lives.
- Carry the One starts off with an epigram, a quote from a Gillian Welch song, as if to say, “Hello, this book is going to be very gay.”
- I was struck by how the violence that occurs in the novel was connected to conservative arguments. The little girl is killed because Olivia is high on drugs. Message: drugs are bad. Nick’s nose is broken because “Everyone was tacitly deferring to some universal law that, while his daughter lay in the hospital morgue, a father was allowed to punch out the guy lounging around in the wedding dress” (p 18). Message: variant gender expression is bad. Carmen’s ear is destroyed while volunteering to help women safely access a clinic that performs abortions. Message: abortion is bad. Maybe this wasn’t the author’s intent, but it happened enough that I started to pay attention.
- Also, by including the tragic car accident right after Alice and Maude have sex, Anshaw continues an unfortunate tradition of tragic car accidents “coincidentally” occurring after same-sex partners have sex. (Including the first YA book with LGBT content, I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip by John Donovan, wherein the main character’s dog is hit by a car after the MC has sex with his male friend.)
- I’m interested in how Alice is the only character whose intimate moments are detailed for the reader. She is presented as a sexual object in a way that none of the other characters are.
- I loved the relationship Carmen had with her sister Alice. This quote is probably my favorite in the entire book and definitely makes a top ten list somewhere: Carmen was always a little startled (and titillated) when Alice said things like this. She wasn’t sure if this was her sister’s way of being shocking, or if lesbians all talked this way among themselves. It always tripped her up. She used to imagine love between women as a languid extension of friendship. Something Virginia Woolf-ish involving tea and conversation and sofas and afternoon eliding into evening, a small lamp needing to be turned on, but left unlit. And so she was brought up short by Alice’s exhausting–even just to witness–passion for Maude, her desolation since Maude walked out of her life. (p. 63)
- Carmen works in a women’s shelter and I was pleasantly surprised that one of the women had been abused by her female partner. Representations of survivors of same-sex violence are so rare, and the inclusion here didn’t seem forced, as if included just to make a point.
- This is the second novel, after John Green’s fantastic The Fault in Our Stars, I’ve read this year where a character visits the Anne Frank House.
- Time goes by quickly, with each chapter beginning without a note as to just how much time has passed. Usually this bothers me in books, but I found it easy enough to keep track based on the pop culture references and, more directly, characters’ mentions of time.
- Alice gets mono–which the text frequently refers to as the KISSING DISEASE. Cause y’all know who she’d be kissing, amiright? It’s telling that in the same chapter, Alice tells Carmen she’s “reading all these cheesy dyke novels from the forties and fifties,” which she loves because “[t]hey’re like Greek tragedies. Everyone gets horribly punished in the end. Or they hang themselves with a belt over the steam pipe” (p. 152). Since Alice, Carmen, and Nick are named after tragic Opera characters…I got kind of nervous about where this was going.
- And then, oh God, their mother dies right after Alice has sex. Alice, you should never have sex apparently because you KILL PEOPLE WITH YOUR LADY LOVE.
Recommended: Despite some of the things I’ve said above, Carry the One is an engaging, well-written story that just so happens to use several tropes of LGBT fiction.
Green Carnation Prize Project participants:
- Jack Holmes and His Friend by Edmund White, reviewed by Adam
- Scenes From Early Life by Philip Henser, reviewed by Ana
- A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale, reviewed by MatLee
- Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Before he Stole Me Ma by Kerry Hudson, reviewed by Jodie
*The Green Carnation Prize recognizes the best book of the year by a LGBT-identified author.