Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Condition by Jennifer Haigh





I discovered this novel right after watching an episode of Law & Order SVU about a young woman afflicted with Turner’s Syndrome, a disease that basically traps an adult woman in a little girl’s body.

I was really intrigued by the plot of this novel, about how a family copes with their daughter’s illness and what happens when she falls in love. But this is one of those times when I think the author tried to do too much. By making it about the whole dysfunctional family and all their problems—scientist father’s obsession with work and his libido; frigid perfectionist mother and her secret attraction to the handyman; secretly gay but successful cardiologist eldest son; ne’er-do-well discontented, pot-smoking youngest son; and Turner’s afflicted only daughter—the book got bogged down and the most interesting part overshadowed and often pushed to the back burner with several chapters often going by while all the rest of this unfurls like a dropped roll of paper towels. For me, this book just plodded along, and I was able to put it down for long stretches of time, which I usually can’t bear to do; that’s why I have trouble reading while I am writing my own books. I am in no way implying that Ms. Haigh’s portrait of the fictional McKotch family is unrealistic, the problems and secrets are often many, complex, and multi-layered, and I thought she did a fine job depicting this particular dysfunctional family. I just think it would have made a much better and stronger book if the spotlight had been kept aimed on Gwen, who at thirty-four falls in love with Rico, a dive manager during her Caribbean vacation, leading her family to wonder and worry if he is sincere. Is this charming man, the kind who makes a living preying on female tourists, does he see dollar signs when he looks at short, flat-chested Gwen, or could it be that he truly does love Gwen? And when the family puts him to the test will he pass or fail it? I won’t spoil it for anyone who is tempted to find out. And, despite my quibbles with this one, I would gladly give another book by Ms. Haigh a chance; in fact, I have her other two in one or more of my "To Read" stacks, one is about life in a coal mining town in the 1940s and 50s and the other about the women a human chameleon loves and leaves behind him, so I’m definitely intrigued.




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