One-Minute Book Reviews

May 8, 2012

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to Carol Anshaw’s ‘Carry the One’ With 10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs

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10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others

Carry the One
By Carol Anshaw
Source: One-Minute Book Reviews

This guide for reading groups and others was not authorized or approved by the author, publisher or agent for the book. It is copyrighted by Janice Harayda and is only for your personal use. Its sale or reproduction is illegal except by public libraries, which may make copies for use in their in-house reading programs. Other reading groups that would like to use this guide should link to it or check the “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to learn how to request permission to reproduce it.

Time is supposed to “heal.” But do some wounds run so deep that they remain immune to its effects? A tragedy in the first chapter of Carry the One places that question at the center of the lives of the adult siblings Carmen, Alice and Nick Kenney. A 10-year-old girl dies after being struck by a car full of stoned and drunken guests who are leaving Carmen’s wedding near Chicago in 1983. And for the next 25 years, that event will reverberate across the paths of the Kenneys, which are at once separate and intersecting — Carmen’s marriage and motherhood, Alice’s lesbian affairs, and Nick’s descent into drug use and meetings with hookers. Each Kenney seeks redemption in a different way. But all of their lives testify to the words of a guest at Carmen’s wedding. In affairs of the heart, she says, you can never discount the effects of time: “Time is always a player.”

Spoiler Warning! Some of the questions below involve events that occur late in the novel. Stop reading here if you would prefer not to know about these.

10 Discussion Questions for Carry the One:

1. Carol Anshaw took on a big challenge – that of keeping her story moving forward while continually switching back and forth between the stories of Carmen, Alice and Nick. Did she keep you turning the pages? Why or why not?

2. Which of the three Kenneys did you find most and least interesting?

3. Kevin Nance wrote in a review in the Chicago Sun-Times that Carry the One might have been stronger if Anshaw had given her story one main character instead of three. Do you agree or disagree?

4. Each of the Kenneys immerses him- or herself in something after the crash that kills 10-year-old Casey Redman: Carmen in social activism; Alice in art; and Nick in drugs. Why do you think they do this? Are they trying to escape from their memories? To atone for their guilt? Or to do something else?

5. Horace and Loretta Kenney are so self-absorbed that they don’t go to their daughter Carmen’s wedding. [Page 8] Does this affect how their adult children react to the crash that killed Casey Redman? How?

6. All three Kenney children have failed relationships: Carmen with her first husband, Matt; Alice with her lesbian lover, Maude; and Nick with Olivia, the driver of the car that killed Casey Redman. Does this have more to do with their upbringing or with the crash?

7. What parts of Carry the One did you find witty or amusing despite the tragedy at the heart of the novel?

8. Nick dies soon after Casey Redman’s mother, who has “cancer of everything,” forgives him for her daughter death. [Page 243, 245] What is the connection those events? Did Nick need Shanna’s forgiveness in order to die? Or had he been staying alive for Shanna (and lost his reason for living when, presumably, she died, too)?

9. The last line of Carry the One is unusual in that it is spoken by someone who has just appeared on the scene. [Page 253] It is much more common for the final words of a novel to come from someone we know fairly well by then. How do you interpret the last line of Carry the One? Is Olivia “okay”?

10. Michiko Kakutani called this novel “beautifully observed” in her New York Times review of Carry the One. What are some of the things that Anshaw observes especially well?

1. The Simon & Schuster reading group guide for this novel says incorrectly that “Mourning and loss are the themes of this book.” “Mourning” and “loss” are not “themes”; they are subjects. A subject tells you what a book is “about” while a theme tells you what a book says about its subjects. So you might express the theme of Carry the One as, “People may grieve for the same loss in different ways” or “Contrary to the popular idea that you need ‘closure,’ you may grieve for some losses all your life.” Can you sum up in a sentence what the book says about loss or grief?

2. Carry the One actually has a larger theme than anything it says about loss or grief (which might be better described as a subtheme.) Anshaw expressed that theme in an interview in which she said that “time both makes a great deal of difference, and no difference at all.” As a character in the novel puts it, “Time is always a player” (though the degree to which it “plays” may vary). [Page 212] How is time a “player” in Carry the One?

3. All three characters in Carry the One have the names of opera characters or variations on them. [Page 40] In what ways is this novel “operatic”? [A discussion of this appears in the review of Carry the One posted on One-Minute Book Reviews.]

4. Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit From the Goon Squad deals with the effects of time and shares other elements with Carry the One, such as switching back and forth between characters’ stories. If you’ve read that novel, how would you compare it with Anshaw’s?

Vital statistics:
Carry the One. By Carol Anshaw. Simon & Schuster, 261 pp., $25. Published: March 2012. A review of Carry the One appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on May 8, 2012.

Publishers’ reading group guides are marketing tools designed to sell books. They typically encourage cheerleading instead of a frank discussion of the merits or demerits of an author’s work. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides are an alternative to those commercial guides and are intended to give books a fuller context and to promote a more stimulating conversation about them.

One-Minute Book Reviews does not accept free books from editors, publishers or authors, and all reviews and guides offer an independent evaluation of books. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides appear frequently but not on a regular schedule. You can avoid missing the guides by subscribing to the RSS feed or following Jan on Twitter.

Janice Harayda is a novelist and award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. You can follow her on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button in the right sidebar.

© 2012 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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