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?