From a 1983 wedding through Election Day 2008, Anshaw (Lucky in the Corner, 2002, etc.) tracks a Chicago family unsettled by a fatal accident.
It’s no accident that the driver of the car that kills 10-year-old Casey Redman is the extremely stoned girlfriend of Nick, brother of the bride. Nick’s growing addiction is one of the subplots in a tender but often somber story centered on his family. His sister Carmen, whose marriage to Matt sets the plot in motion (and doesn’t last long), is a political activist, marginally more acceptable to their deeply conventional mother Loretta than sibling Alice, an artist and lesbian who suffers an agonizing passion for Matt’s sexually conflicted sister Maude. At least Carmen produces a child, while Alice has made the mistake of competing with their father Horace, an egocentric, domineering painter. Olivia, the stoned driver, goes to jail and straightens up; for a while after she gets out, it seems she’ll keep Nick in line, but he loves getting high too much. Nick, Alice and Carmen are all haunted by memories of the dead girl—Alice knows her series of paintings of Casey are her best work but refuses to show them—yet Anshaw doesn’t suggest the accident fundamentally changed the arcs of their lives; her understanding of human fallibility and existential contingency is too subtle for that kind of artistic determinism. Instead, she quietly follows her characters through the usual stuff of growing up and growing older: marriages, breakups, material success and spiritual uncertainty. Not since Roxana Robinson’s Cost (2008) has a novel so bluntly depicted the impact of addiction on a family, but that isn’t the whole story here. Loving but judgmental Carmen and skittish but fundamentally sound Alice have their own odysseys to pursue; Carmen’s evolving relationships with Gabe, son from her first marriage, and with Rob, the second husband who’s not at all what she thought she wanted, are particularly sensitively drawn.
Sharply observed and warmly understanding—another fine piece of work from this talented author.