THE CONDITION by Jennifer Haigh

Condition Finally. FINALLY. The kind of book I can sink into, get lost in, miss when I am not reading. I just finished Jennifer Haigh’s The Condition, which I discussed earlier on the blog here.

I loved this book. It’s about The McKotches, a New England family of five with a daughter, Gwen, who has Turner’s Syndrome. The book opens at the family beach house on the Cape when the girl is young, and hasn’t yet been diagnosed. Shortly after, her parents begin to suspect there is something wrong with her (she never goes through puberty), and their own disagreement about how to handle her treatment contributes in part to the breakup of their marriage.

The next section of the book picks up about twenty years later. The oldest son, Billly, is living a closeted life in NY. Gwen is also living a hermetic, antisocial life in Pittsburgh, working in the basement of a museum. Scott, the youngest, is unhappily married with kids and teaching at a second-rate prep school. The parents – Paulette and Frank – are divorced and each lonely and somewhat dissatisfied with where their lives have gone. Haigh takes each character in turn, examining their lives, their unhappiness, and their relationships with each other.

Gwen chooses to go on vacation to the Caribbean, and what transpires there sets into motion a series of events that causes each member of the family to evaluate their relationships with each other. Haigh’s ability to get into their heads and understand the motivations and desires of these diverse characters is very impressive. I was struck, over and over, by how believable and sympathetic these characters were. They had legitimate issues with and anger toward each other, but no one was villainous or one-dimensional. I loved Haigh’s dissection of family dynamics, her gentle analysis and rehabilitation of these wounded characters.

I don’t want to give too much away here. The ending is a little pat for me (yes, I know, I always criticize endings), but I’ll take it. This was the best book I’ve read in a while, and I heartily recommend it to anyone looking for a meaty, satisfying family drama.

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