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Picked as last month’s Lambda book club read, Carol Anshaw’s Carry the One (Simon & Schuster) is a complex story about three siblings, one of which is a lesbian. They are catapulted into different directions after one fatal accident, a moment they can pinpoint as the night that changed their lives. Carry the One is about addiction, love, loss, recovery, and time. It’s harrowing and wonderfully crafted.
Ms. Anshaw kindly agreed to answer a few of Lambda’s questions.
You’re an artist—not only a writer, but you paint, too. In what ways are your style with the brush and the keyboard similar and different?
My paintings are also narratives. Currently I’m working on a series of paintings of Vita Sackville-West—an arrogant aristocrat, careless with other people’s hearts. My paintings are a sort of a biography in paint.
What compels you to write queer characters?
I’m queer, much of my world is queer. It would feel weird to create a fictional world without queer characters in it. Plus, the ways we inhabit our lives is fiercely interesting to me. Our place in the greater culture is changing and I want to chronicle that.
Carry the One isn’t your first novel, but it is your first since 2002. Was this novel the hardest to write, and thus took the longest time? What sets Carry the One apart from your backlist?
It wasn’t hard to write, but it was more complicated than anything I’d tried before. I was working across a large piece of time with many characters. When I “finished” the book, it was 350 pages. Then I went back and started tossing out and compressing and wound up with a book with the same characters and the same time span, but in 250 pages. I think this makes it an unusual book, a narrative that moves in a surprising way.
Your novel revolves around three siblings: Carmen, a mother; Alice, a lesbian painter; Nick, a troubled addict. What traits do you share with each of your characters, if any?
I am tragically romantic, much like Alice. I am politically progressive like Carmen. My brother, although not Nick, had similar addictions, and he was a big part of my life.
I loved the way you handled time in Carry the One. Some chapters take the reader two days forward, two years forward, ten years forward, yet the characters never drastically change. Instead, their problems settle deeper inside their consciences, and the tension rises with each page. What made you want to write a novel where time played a major role?
The whole book is about time—what it changes, what it has no effect on at all. Time is really the main character in the book.
What was the hardest part to write?
I’m not sure why, but the section immediately following the accident was the hardest to write—the logistics and emotions all in such a tumble, all the main characters present at once. It was like an extremely difficult test I set up for myself.
How is the addiction Nick faces in Carry the One different than addiction portrayed in other novels?
I’ve seen much in fiction about addicts but not so much about the family of the addict, what they go through, how far down the addict takes everybody else.
Alice has a hard time creating a long-lasting relationship, and she often reflects back on the relationship she had with Maude and what went wrong with it. What’s the closest you’ve come to the same issue as Alice?
I think making good relationships has a learning curve. I think almost everyone, myself included, has done it wrong on the way to getting it right.
Carry the One is set in Chicago, where you also currently reside. What do you think the story would lose if it were set anyplace else?
I’ve lived in Chicago a long time. It’s a city with a big personality and I try to capture that. I now also live some of the time in Amsterdam and I tried to bring its exquisite melancholy into the novel.
Who are your literary influences? Do they serve as touchstones for your own work stylistically or in terms of content?
Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, Shirley Hazzard—these are writers, among others, who have shown me that style can be an essential element of telling a story, as opposed to an atmospheric overlay, or a curlicue on a sentence here and there.