Every once in a while, you're lucky enough to come across a novel that, from its very first line, draws you in, sets you up, makes you a committed visitor to the author's newly created world. Carol Anshaw's Carry the One -- on our Best of the Year List at No. 64 -- is that kind of novel.
It begins: "So Carmen was married, just." Maybe it's the afterthought adverb "just" that sets the tone. After all, don't you know something different about the narrator and the story than what you'd think if Anshaw had written, "Carmen had just gotten married"? It's conversational, it's casual; and in its casualness it suggests, counter-intuitively, that something serious is about to happen.
Something serious -- a car accident that will haunt this group of friends for years to come* -- does happen, and you're left with a feeling you get mostly from the really best books: a sense that the outcome will be both surprising and inevitable at the same time. Carry the One suggests that any of us could make a single mistake that would haunt us forever. Of what, exactly, are we capable -- and culpable? What is our relationship to the truth, to family and to love?
If all this sounds brainy or didactic or book-review-y, I'm doing you (and the much undersung author Carol Anshaw) a giant disservice. This novel reads more like a thriller than a psych text, and it's full of humor and sex and other hijinks, too. You'll know these people. You may be these people. Carry the One is what you should read next.
*I'm not spoiling. This happens very early in the book.
And once you’ve finished this gem of a novel, take a look at some others that explore similar guilt-and-obligation themes: