Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Condition, by Jennifer Haigh

This is possibly the most unredemptive book I've read this year. I am of the general belief that people don't intrinsically change, that they really embody their original characters until the end. But still. Jeez. This family is completely mummified; none of them are going to change an iota over the next several millenia.

Okay, in fact there are a few moments of almost enlightenment, but they don't seem to help the enlightenees in any noticeable way. Lifelong grudges and misunderstandings are left intact, feelings of helplessness and inadequacy persist.

And the attitude about aging! Ms. Haigh was born 3 years after me, putting her at 43. Here is the term she uses to describe the older generation of the family, now ensconced in their late 50's: aged. And then there's this, from a character just turned 60:

Was this old age, then: the end of all wanting? ... Whatever he'd desired from life had
been gotten, or not; his wishes satisfied, or not. His wishes - Paulette's too - were       exhausted.

It's not that this book is bad; it's pretty well-written, and is an interesting examination of how a family can break down under a combination of bad news and rigid personalities. Ultimately, my issue with the book is that I didn't really like any of the characters. I felt empathy for all of them, and I rooted for each one as they seemed on the verge of breaking away from their iron-clad trajectories. But I'd hate to be trapped in the back seat with any one of them.

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