Title: The Condition
Author: Jennifer Haigh
Summary: This is another book that resists easy summary. It's about the Drew family, a family that various reviews have described as "dysfunctional", but that I think is as functional as a lot of "normal" families, and honestly I think that's sort of the point. Paulette, an anxious, uptight WASP, Frank, a brilliant biologist with a bit of an unruly sexual id, find their marriage in jeopardy when they learn that their second child and only daughter, Gwen, is afflicted with Turner's Syndrome -- a condition which prevents girls from going through puberty. Paulette's and Frank's difficulties coping with this, combined with Paulette's mistrust of Frank and his impatience with her, lead to a divorce. In the decades following the split, all the members of the family -- Paulette, Frank, Gwen, and Gwen's two siblings, Billy and Scott -- struggle to define themselves within the context of their family. That is the stupidest, most boring summary ever, but like I said, it's not easy to summarize. Basically, it's a book about these people, and their family, and what it means to be part of a family. I really can't say much beyond that.
Why did you get this book? I'd heard Jennifer Haigh was good, and it was $3 off the bargain cart at Harvard Bookstore.
Did you enjoy the book? I really did, actually. I think by now it's clear that characterization is the all-important element in fiction as far as I'm concerned. Haigh's characters feel very human and natural, and so I liked the book a great deal. And she does a great job with the issue of the unreliable narrator -- filtering the same stories through different characters' perspectives, which throws both the objective incidents they're relating and the characters themselves into new light. There was the not-so-minor problem of the fact that one entire subplot (Frank's) is lifted directly -- and I do mean directly -- from Allegra Goodman's Intuition. I don't really know exactly how to think about that; I mean, *seriously*, Jennifer Haigh, WTF. And the ending wrapped certain plotlines up in a much too fairy-taleish fashion. However, I liked the characters enough that I wanted to see them get a happy ending, so I minded the fairy-tale aspect less. So, yeah. Good book. But if Allegra Goodman sues I won't be surprised.
Was the author new to you and would you read something by this author again? I hadn't read her before, but now I've taken Mrs. Kimble, her first novel, out of the library.
Are you keeping it or passing it on? Keeping.
Anything else? If you read this you should also read Allegra Goodman's Intuition. It's a very good book and Goodman got there first, FFS.
Scale of 1 to 10: 8