Thursday, January 7, 2010

Book Review: The Condition by Jennifer Haigh

I wasn't going to post another blog today, but then I realized I'm only a week in to 2010 and I've finished reading two books. True, the first one was mostly completed before 2010 starts, but it still counts. At the rate I'm going, this'll be a good year! (Yeah, right, I'll get back to school and not read for fun again for three months).

Oh, and warning: this book review includes a bit of a spoiler. Sorry. One thing wasn't right at the end and it bothered me. It would make for a great discussion in an English class, actually.

After finishing The Condition by Jennifer Haigh I am left with mixed emotions. The novel isn't so much about Gwen McKotch and her Turner's Syndrome but rather about the entire McKotch family and their peculiar lives. Apparently Haigh is known for her family stories and that's exactly what this is: another family story. The 390-page novel details the lives of five separate adults bound together by blood, not love. It provides the back story for every single detail rather than employing a need-to-know mindset. Honestly, who cares about some of these obscure characters the family encountered thirty years ago? On the contrary, those stories that would be helpful (for example, more about Paulette's relationship with her late boyfriend Donald who left her a significant sum of money) were vague. In Haigh's defense, these characters are well-developed and sometimes creative yet also sometimes stereotypical.

In the end, she creates a picturesque finish, almost too good to be true. I kind of wanted to say, "And they all lived happily ever after." Except I was too busy wondering about those things not tied neatly into a bow. (Don't say I didn't warn you; skip to the next paragraph if you plan to read this book, sorry). For example, is Ian's (or Scotty's) ADHD ever officially diagnosed and treated? Where does Ian go to school? Does Scott find a new job (carpentry?)? Why couldn't Gwen drive a midsized car at Christmastime but had no problem getting behind the wheel of Rico's truck? How did Billy and Sri get back together? Why don't Gwen, Rico, and the boys travel to the states to visit her family? If the family is all together reunited picture-perfectly why is Gwen in the Caribbean? Does this mean she's been ousted from the family? I don't know but that's how I was left feeling.

I do know that this is the kind of novel I want to write, yet this is the kind of novel I don't want to write. Can I achieve both? I love the character development but there is a fine line between enough and too much. A line I'm trying to find. A line Haigh has crossed. As a writer, the book was inspiring and it taught me a lot. As a reader, it seemed to drag at times; I often wondered why I was reading this and who cares.

I'll say a 7 out of 10. Not a must read but still enjoyable.

<>< Katie
"If I stopped to think about how my editor (or a reviewer or my mother) would react to a particular scene, I wouldn't be able to write at all." - Jennifer Haigh

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