Tag Archives: The Condition

Q&A Jennifer Haigh of THE CONDITION

Haigh I had the great honor tonight of hearing Jennifer Haigh read from her excellent book, The Condition, at Politics & Prose in DC. The Condition was my favorite book in 2008, and I was very excited to hear her talk about the book and her writing process. Here is what she had to say in the Q&A following the reading.

First, she said that Politics & Prose is "one of those stores writers talk about". That made me happy – it's the closest bookstore to my house. (Actually, it's practically the closest store to my house – I am so lucky).

Q: You said that The Condition couldn't have taken place anywhere other than Boston. Why is that?

JH: I have been very influenced by place in all of my work. In The Condition, three locations play a major role – Cape Cod, Cambridge and Concord. Each of these gave a different flavor of the Boston experience.

Q: How did you find out about Turner's Syndrome? What made you decide to write about it?

JH: Turner's Syndrome is rare – about 100,000 women in the U.S. suffer from it. A friend in high school had the condition, though I didn't realize at the time what she had. I came across it many years later in an article, and it struck me as a great premise for a novel. I couldn't believe that no one had written about Turner's Syndrome before. 

I believe that novels are good for one thing – telling how people's lives turn out. For Gwen, Turner's affected her whole life, every aspect of it. Using it in the book was irresistible – I couldn't walk away from it.

Q: Did you start out wanting to be an author?

JH: I have always been a writer, always a reader. I never trained to do anything else (I went to liberal arts school!). I always loved writing. I started out doing some play writing, and while I wasn't good at it, it was helpful in training me how to sustain a story over 400 pages, how to structure and pace it out. I also wrote some short stories, which are a totally different animal – more like poetry.

Q: How long does it take you to write a novel?

JH: It usually takes me about three years. There are about 6-8 months in the beginning when I am casting about, feeling like I have no ideas. Then, when I am finished with a book, I feel like I am tapped, that I have no ideas left, that all my thoughts have been used up. When I am done, I have no novel left in me. It's hard to get up in the morning, demoralizing, feeling like I have no ideas left.

Q: Did you do a lot of research about Turner's?

JH: I did a lot of remedial biology research to understand Turner's, which was humbling – I asked a lot of dumb questions of a lot of smart people. I also interviewed a number of girls and women with Turner's, as well as parents and husbands of women with Turner's.

Q. Location is an important part of all of your books. How do you research location, and how do you decide where to set your novels?

JH: Mrs. Kimble mostly takes place in kitchens. That book was the least dependent on landscape of my three novels. Baker Towers took place in a coal town in Pennsylvania, close to where I grew up. In that book, the setting was a main character in the story. Even though I grew up there, I did a lot of research because the book was set in the 1940s. The town was depressed when I grew up there – and I wanted to set it when it was more alive. I've always had a fantasy of time travel – I wanted to go back to see my town before I was born. Baker Towers was my way of doing that. My research involved sitting back and asking a lot of questions. My dad knew a lot of detail about the past, in that town, and he was a great source of information. Sadly, he died halfway during the writing of the book, but I already had gotten the details and texture from him.

Q: What are you working on now?

JH: I am working on a new novel. It's in the ugly first draft stage, so I have 2 1/2 years to go. I have realized that I hate the first draft phase. I only like rewriting. I love the last three months of putting in commas and taking them out. I am a great punctuator – I love playing with the music of sentences.

Thank you to Jennifer Haigh and Politics & Prose for an excellent reading!

Winners of THE CONDITION Giveaway

Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway for The Condition. This is definitely a popular book! Random.org selected the following five winners:

Josie M.

Kerri R.

She Reads and Reads

Michelle B.

and

Kiki

I will contact you all by email for your address. Thanks for entering, and thanks to HarperCollins for making the books available! If you didn't win, I recommend picking up this book – it's excellent.

Giveaway: THE CONDITION by Jennifer Haigh

Haigh I have a fun giveaway – five copies of the new paperback version of my favorite read from 2008 –The Condition by Jennifer Haigh. It comes out at the end of the month, and you can win a copy here on EDIWTB, thanks to HarperCollins.

Check out the review, and if you want to be entered to win one of the copies, leave me your name and email address in a comment below. Good luck! I will pick five names at random on Sunday, June 28. 

Giveaway: Jennifer Haigh’s THE CONDITION

Condition I rescued a pristine hardcover copy of Jennifer Haigh's The Condition from the ignominy of a tag sale this morning, and I'd like to pass it along to an EDIWTB reader. The Condition is one of the best books I've read this year – I reviewed it here. I am now reading Jennifer Haigh's first novel, Mrs. Kimble.

If you'd like to be entered into the random drawing, leave me a comment here and be sure to enter your email address. I'll pick a name on Wednesday, October 22.

Good luck!

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.

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 clichéd, 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?