I understand that there are some books that are intended to be character studies. The emphasis is on the character and how they deal with things, and the plot is put on the back burner. If done right, they can be pretty engaging with characters so fascinating that readers will look past the thin plot. If not, the novel will become a slog with protagonists that barely anyone will root for. An example of the latter is Carry the One by Carol Anshaw.
Carry the One is about three siblings and their friends who experience a devastating moment following a wedding. It takes place over 25 years as they deal with this trauma in their own ways through friendships and love affairs, marriage and divorce, parenthood, holidays, and the modest calamities and triumphs of ordinary days.
Much as I liked the premise, I had a feeling that not much would happen. Now that I’m done with it, I can say that it’s more a character study, but with a goal of trying to move on. It’s not a bad thing. The Four Sworn: Spring Equinox by Leonore Sagaskie was an origin story for the main characters. It explained how they got their powers, how they met, and how they formed a group to defeat a powerful villain. Both have thin plots, yet the protagonists in The Four Sworn were compelling enough that it kept me engaged throughout. In Carry the One, the characters are not all that interesting. Each of the siblings – Carmen, Alice, and Nick – deal with the tragedy in different ways. One puts herself into her work, her son, and her family with her second husband; another paints and goes through women while trying to get over her true love; and the other one does drugs.
As one can see from that, only one has a legitimately intriguing story. Even though Nick used drugs before, he continues to utilize them to get over his guilt of not telling the driver aka his girlfriend at the time Olivia about seeing the little girl that they hit. It doesn’t help that Carmen – the one who actually gets married – wasn’t even there when the accident occurred. I liked her, yet I had a hard time caring for her and her second marriage due to her absence from the tragedy in the first place. As for Alice, I feel that there was a missed opportunity with her. Part of her atonement was painting the little girl in the various stages of her life while wearing the same outfit that she was killed in. At one point, a famous painter views those works and asks, “What if these are the best paintings you will ever make?”
Sadly, Alice never shows them to others. I understand that she didn’t want to profit off the girl’s death like Tom – a family friend – did with his song about the accident and that it would’ve been a predictable move. However, displaying them would’ve helped others dealing with similar situations as well as herself in her road to healing. She could’ve established a scholarship in the girl’s name or donated them to a charity devoted to car accident prevention. Above all, it would have allowed for something to happen besides Alice going through each woman before getting back with Maude. In addition, it would’ve been a satisfying conclusion to her story.
This book is like an improvisational game, in which barely anyone says, “Yes and…”
It could be interesting, yet it holds back from exploring more in depth about how certain characters like Carmen and Alice go through grief and loss. In other words, it rarely frames the accident in the context of their stories, and how their lives are affected because of it.
In fact, I think that the novel doesn’t focus on the right characters. Nick’s story is compelling, and so is Olivia’s. Olivia is the only one that faced any clear consequences to her actions as she spends some time in jail for having marijuana in the truck. The book doesn’t spend any time with Olivia while she’s in jail as it chooses to focus on her when she leaves. Of all the characters, she’s the one who desperately wants to leave the accident behind and become a better person. She even leaves Nick as he tries to sober up when she discovers a Vicodin pill in his coat pocket. If the book emphasized the accident’s aftermath through Nick’s and Olivia’s eyes, it could’ve been a lot more interesting.
I listened to the audiobook, and it’s narrated by Renee Raudman. Raudman is best known for voicing Ms. Butterbean in The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy. At first, I was worried that I might hear that character throughout the novel and not be able to take it seriously. Luckily, that was not the case, for none of the main female characters had that voice. Raudman has a range with voicing Carmen as a woman who acts like she has it together, but in reality doesn’t, while she portrays Alice as more free-spirited, but frustrated with her love life. The men kind of sound the same, but as I have mentioned on this website, voicing audiobooks is hard. Given the material, Raudman did her best.
All in all, Carry the One by Carol Anshaw is a book that serves as a clear example of how not to do a character study. Some of the characters are interesting, but the novel’s decision to focus on the ones that weren’t directly involved and the lack of action hold it back from being compelling from beginning to end. It’s not a bad book, but I would hesitate to recommend it to others. There are much better character studies out there.
Before I go, I want to announce that I’ll be posting my Top 3 Best and Worst Books of 2021 next week, so stay tuned for that! Until then, Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it!
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