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.

11 Comments

  • August 12, 2008 - 1:29 pm | Permalink

    I have seen on your blog that you were reading the condition. I was pleased to finally read your review of the book. I have read Mrs. Kimble which I loved. I have her others, still sitting on my shelf. But after reading your review I will go out to the famous BN to buy it. For some reason I love to read books from authors from upnorth( New England). Whats up next on your pile?? I am reading Barefoot. Which is totally different a beach read. I usually don’t read books like this.

  • August 12, 2008 - 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Hi Susan – Thanks for watching for my review! This was my first Jennifer Haigh and I am looking forward to reading Mrs. Kimble and Baker Towers. Glad you’re going to read this now! Next up for me is Nice To Come Home To, which I blogged about a few months ago after hearing the author speak.
    Gayle

  • August 12, 2008 - 3:42 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed your review of The Condition. I read it recently & rated it a 4.5/5, great book, but for me it dragged in parts. Having had a friend with Turner’s Syndrome I found it especially interesting.
    I loved Mrs Kimball by Haigh, and though Baker Towers was just okay.

  • rissa winkelman
    August 13, 2008 - 6:39 am | Permalink

    I also read this book and although I enjoyed it I did not find it as stunning as you did. It was a little like a TV script and would make a good movie.
    For a really good and very readable book, read Mudbound. Loved it.

  • August 13, 2008 - 5:33 pm | Permalink

    Great review! I have read Baker Towers which I enjoyed and will make a note of this.

  • August 14, 2008 - 6:35 am | Permalink

    Gayle, thanks for your review. I’ve read and enjoyed Haigh’s other books so I was hoping to see positive reviews of her latest.

  • August 14, 2008 - 1:36 pm | Permalink

    I am dying to get my hands on this book. It just looks so good. Love your review too. It’s on my GoodReads list. Just have to find the time now to read it.

  • Amy
    August 14, 2008 - 9:15 pm | Permalink

    Hi Gayle,
    It’s great to hear such enthusiasm about a book! I’m so glad you had such a satisfying experience. The story does sound fascinating.
    Amy

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