THE CONDITION by Jennifer Haigh

I’ve been reading reviews of The Condition by Jennifer Haigh in a bunch of outlets of late, and I just received a review copy of it from HarperCollins. I may bring it on vacation with me next week.

Condition The Condition opens in a Cape Cod summer house in 1976, where the McKotches, a family of five, has gathered for a vacation. Paulette and Frank McKotch have three children – two boys, Billy and Scotty, and a daughter, Gwen, who has Turner syndrome, a chromosomal abnormality that prevents her from going through puberty. The book then jumps ahead twenty years and revisits the family. The parents have divorced and the children are each leading disparate yet equally unhappy lives.

Booking Mama reviewed The Condition last month, and said:

I loved the title of this book. My first impression was that “the condition” that the title referred to was Gwen’s Turner’s Syndrome. However after reading the book, I think that the title could be alluding to other “conditions” as well. Basically, each member of the McKotch family is wrestling with their own “condition” — something that they blame for the demise of their family. In addition, I’m pretty sure that the term is also referring to the condition of the McKotch family in general– the various states of the family throughout the course of the novel.

Book Club Girl has a video of Jennifer Haigh talking about the book as well. And here is a review from today’s Washington Post Book World by Chris Bohjalian, who writes:

Haigh has demonstrated in her previous two novels, Mrs. Kimble and Baker Towers, an unerring ability to chronicle the ways people delude themselves — those lies we tell ourselves daily to survive. And in The Condition her touch with characterization is usually sure. Occasionally, Paulette’s monumental repression and Billy’s gay domesticity feel a tad clich├ęd, but generally Haigh’s characters are layered and authentic. Moreover, one would have to have a heart of stone not to care for them and follow their small sagas.

The novel moves at a leisurely pace with little occurring through the first half. In the second half, however, the story gathers momentum when Gwen visits a Caribbean island where a handsome, charismatic scuba instructor suddenly and inexplicably falls in love with her. She chooses to stay with him on the island, setting off a seismic shift that causes the rest of her family to lose their balance and make choices that range from merely shortsighted to appalling.

And then we come to the end, which does not feel fully earned or very likely. But Haigh is such a gifted chronicler of the human condition and I cared so much for each member of the McKotch clan that I was nonetheless happy to have spent time with them, and to have witnessed them growing up and old and, finally, learning to accept who they are. 

In an interview in More magazine last month, Haigh said, “Whatever family you grew up on, it’s got its own culture. The question of what is kept secret and what is spoken about openly cuts to the heart of our relationships with our parents. The list of taboo topics is not identical in any two families.”

Anyone out there who has read The Condition and Mrs. Kimble – which one should I read first?


  • July 14, 2008 - 6:23 am | Permalink

    I think THE CONDITION was a better book. Of course, I read MRS. KIMBLE awhile back, so I may have forgotten how much I enjoyed it too! I don’t think you will go wrong either way — she’s a fantastic writer.

  • July 14, 2008 - 7:26 am | Permalink

    I haven’t read anything by Jennifer Haigh, but I’m curious/interested in The Condition.
    She read at a local bookstore last week, but I wasn’t able to get in to see her. I would have loved to have heard Haigh read from her work, I’m sure I would have snapped up one of each of her books!

  • July 14, 2008 - 8:50 am | Permalink

    I got a ARC of The Condition at PLA this spring and read it right away. It was a good book, but I liked Baker Towers best. But Haigh is one of those authors who I’ll read everyting she publishes.

  • July 14, 2008 - 6:16 pm | Permalink

    I can’t wait to read the condition. I have read Mrs. Kimble and loved it. I am in a book club and I not sure if it is a generation factor. Some of my members are much older. And did not like the book and the tend to shy away when it comes into reference of feministic views. I love books like that. Can’t wait to read your post about The Condition”.

  • rissa
    July 15, 2008 - 9:16 am | Permalink

    I am reading The Condition right now. I will be curious to hear your comments when you are finished. I read both of her other books and enjoyed them very much.
    I just finished The Commoner which I enjoyed. And read the new Jeffrey Archer, not my usual reading, Prisioner of Birth, and really liked it. It was a great vacation book and we are at the cottage right now.

  • Nancy West
    July 15, 2008 - 1:14 pm | Permalink

    I LOVED Baker Towers. It had some unusual narrative historical details about World War II America (such as the way young women went to work in Washington, D.C., in a Rosie the Riveter fashion) as well as a really interesting set of characters.

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