One hundred and five years ago when I was young I was invited to a few warehouse parties, all the rage back then. I had a glowering boyfriend who lived in the Haight, and he was best friends (not a term to which he would confess) with a guy in a band, a surprisingly good band named Swirl Happy. They were calculatingly atonal, to borrow a phrase I heard from another pseudo-hip friend. This lead singer was married to an exotic woman from Torino, Italy, who had married him to stay in the country but was also secretly in love with him. With this agreement she doomed herself to watching groupies hunt, retreating back to her lower Haight digs where we would eat gnocchi at 3am and try to figure out if we danced with any transvestites. It was all very intoxicating. The problem was that I was a total dork. I dressed incorrectly; warehouse parties and slumming in dive bars actually had a very narrow social code. Once, she unlooped the soccer scarf right off me and said I just couldn’t wear that. Then I got weeded out. Torino Woman was very nice but her best friend, an artist who, among other uber-cool things, upholstered TV sets, was our third girl and, as everyone knows, three girls does not a nice mix make. She decided I committed the ultimate heresy: I got myself a boyfriend, a normal guy who watched football, baseball and who ate lots and lots of meat. Back then Mr. Halfstory was Mr. Latenight, so it really wasn’t him. Mr. Halfstory, despite his growing need for privacy, has always had nimble and sincere social skills, has been able to mix with everyone, find common ground, and speak coherently on many subjects, even ones about which he knows absolute squat. No, the weeding was all about me. But that was fine. I was done with that portion of my life. While it was momentarily traumatic for my ego, I had something better waiting for me, even if it was a risk.
This all crashed into my brain because I finished Carry the One, by Carol Anshaw, and I totally loved it. Also, I was intrigued by the title. Reading the inside flap, I expected to be manipulated, kind of like after I saw Terms of Endearment, cried, then then a year or so later realized it was all nonsense and I had been emotionally used. While this book has nothing to do with warehouse parties, or Debra Winger movies, it did initiate a lot of reflection, on life’s compromises and choices, on how we choose to carry our baggage. That one memory was a brief and frivolous snapshot of what this book triggered. Carry the One begins with a group of wedding guests, packed in a car, who accidentally hit and kill a young girl on a dark country road. The reader follows their lives post-accident. Surprisingly, it is not a constant, one-piano-key diatribe on what we should have done differently. It really is about ordinary lives, talented people who make common choices, and, of course, consequences, one of which is forever thinking of a young girl’s truncated life. One of the characters says “you add us all up and we still have to carry the one.” Anshaw has a laser-sharp eye for detail and description. Her writing is disciplined and refined, her metaphors fresh but seasoned at the same time (very difficult to achieve). For instance, her description of a husband who is supposed to be contributing to a difficult conversation with a teenager: “she waited in vain for Rob to chime in while he sat off to the side, like an unwired stereo speaker.” And just when you begin to grow weary, and edge toward cynicism, she gives you a sliver of hope. Just like life, I guess.