Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Condition by Jennifer Haigh

I remember hearing buzz about this book. I can also remember picking it up at the BandN on the UES and reading the beginning without being completely subsumed. Almost a year later I took the bite and devoured the book in one day.  I think Haigh is a masterful storyteller.  She leads the reader to make easy inferences without hitting them over the head with clues.  There is a great deal of foreshadowing in the story. And the fact that it begins and ends in the same place reminded me of Irving's A Widow for One Year.
In some ways the family at the center of this novel is maddening. They don't talk to each other enough, they don't reveal how they are really feeling, they refuse to treat each of the children's conditions.  The book is set up to have you believe that the condition refers to Paulette and Frank's daughter's diagnosis with Turner syndrome. But each of their children has their own condition. Billy, the first born, a Princeton and Columbia educated surgeon, and his parent's clear favorite, refuses to reveal the truth about his sexuality.  Scott, the youngest, who barely knew his parents as a couple, flunks out of college, spends much of his life medicated on marijuana,  marries a woman suddenly and stands by her for eleven years (fathering two rambunctious children) and only realizes in adulthood, that he, like his son, has ADHD.  Paulette and Frank have conditions as well. Paulette loves only in one way. She refuses to discuss her daughter's illness with anyone, and infantilizes her.  Frank, a hard-working scientist and professor at MIT, is unable to really be a father to his children or a husband to his wife.  Their marriage crumbles, as does their family.
I am someone who loves stories that are inherently about families so this may explain my enjoyment of the book. But I also genuinely enjoyed Haigh's writing style.

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