Last week, April Hanks, a member of s[r]’s advertising staff, submitted a review to our goodreads.com page.
Jennifer Haigh frequently delves into the complexities of family life by placing her characters in difficult situations. The Condition is no exception. This nonlinear novel begins with a young family, the McKotches, on vacation. Fast forward 21 years and the family has been torn apart by illness, divorce, and secrets. With seamless transitions between past and present, The Condition is the story of this family and how they got to their present state.
The diagnosis of daughter Gwen with Turner syndrome is the catalyst for the family’s dissolution. Haigh writes about this condition, as well as other biological facts, with ease and effectively incorporates them into the novel without seeming weighty. However, Haigh’s novel defies norms because it is not centered around Gwen’s illness. The novel is more interested in how the family interacts with one another and deals with the circumstances they are in.
Family dynamics lie at the heart of this novel. Although the characters all live separate, distant lives, they are connected by their family bond. To some extent, each character is trying to escape their past while simultaneously being pulled back to it. The Condition gives a realistic portrayal of a family whose children have already left home and the struggles involved in keeping that family together. Each chapter is narrated by a different member of the McKotch family and these narrations are woven together with interactions between the characters.
Like most of Haigh’s work, not everything is resolved by the end of the novel. Each member of the family continues to remember their history differently based on their perceptions and misconceptions. But this is only appropriate for a novel that reflects real familial interactions. Jennifer Haigh understands the discrete complexities of familial relationships and has crafted a novel that will leave you thinking about your own family.
An interview with Jennifer Haigh appeared in s[r] Issue 11.
Available on goodreads this week, a review by our content coordinator Bianca Peterson.
Dinah Lenney’s Bigger Than Life: A Murder, A Memoir is both cleverly written and moving as she reflects on her father’s murder, the aftermath, and the complex relationships between the two father figures in her life—her biological father and her stepfather. Lenney uses a mix of present and past tense to both reflect on the events and take her audience back in time to the moments they occur, allowing readers to experience the events alongside her. The technique creates an emotional connection between Lenney and her audience as instead of merely baring witness to her past feelings of pain and loss.
She begins with a prologue with the subtext “Eliza Wants to Know,” detailing the curiosity of her oldest child and her own anxiety of finally telling her children the truth about their grandfather’s death. From here, the pieces slowly fall into place as Lenney begins to drop details concerning the murder before bringing the audience back in time to the day she first received the phone call from her half-brother.
What ultimately makes Lenney’s book so compelling is that it is a story not only about loss, but also the aftermath of loss and the path to healing. Lenney’s story doesn’t come to a close after the full details of her father’s death are revealed, but years later when she finally begins to heal from the ordeal. Furthermore, the novel comes full circle as she returns to the dilemma introduced in the first chapter: telling her children the truth about their grandfather’s death. Moving and highly compelling, Lenney’s strength transfers to the reader as they make the journey with her.
Dinah Lenney’s piece Object Parade: Coffee Table appeared in s[r] Issue 5.