PEN/Hemingway Award winner Jennifer Haigh takes the listener inside the lives of a seemingly perfect everyday family and exposes the fault lines that threaten their happiness. All of the five family members have flaws, secrets, and special needs that contribute to the conflict and ultimate resolution - which, despite the extreme dysfunctionality of the characters, offers an optimistic depiction of the power of love. Jennifer Van Dyck is an excellent choice to present this understated novel. While her tone is gentle and conversational, her pace is brisk. Without ever becoming strident or artificial she displays a full range of emotion as she gives a clear voice to each member of this family.
One day on the beach, Frank is struck by an image he cannot forget: his 13-year-old daughter, Gwen, strangely infantile in her child-sized bikini, standing a full head shorter than her younger cousin Charlotte. At that moment, he knows a truth that he can never again unknow: something is terribly wrong with his only daughter. The McKotch family will never be the same.
Twenty years after Gwen's diagnosis with Turner's syndrome, a genetic condition that has prevented her from maturing, trapping her forever in the body of a child, all five family members are still dealing with the fallout. Each believes himself crippled by some secret pathology; each feels responsible for the family's demise. Frank and Paulette are acrimoniously divorced. Billy, the eldest son, is dutiful but distant, a handsome Manhattan cardiologist with a life built on compromise. His brother, Scott, awakens from a pot-addled adolescence to a soul-killing job, a regrettable marriage, and a vinyl-sided tract house in the suburbs.
Gwen is silent and emotionally aloof, a bright, accomplished woman who spurns any interaction with those around her. She makes peace with the hermetic life she's constructed until, well into her 30s, she falls in love for the first time. And suddenly, once again, the family's world is tilted on its axis.
Compassionate yet unflinchingly honest, witty and almost painfully astute, The Condition explores the power of family mythologies - the self-delusions, denials, and inescapable truths that forever bind fathers and mothers and siblings.
©2008 Jennifer Haigh; (P)2008 HarperCollins Publishers
"Filled with genuine insight and touching lyricism." (Kirkus Reviews)
I didn't want this book to end. And really, it could have gone on for another 14 hours. The writer must have been reading my mind as this was a perfect listen.
Full of insight and delicate nuance, this book took hold of my attention from the start. There is a vast range of terrific characters with understandable frailties, described and defined with stunning clarity. There are commonplace situations that this writer infuses with depth and dimension, finding wondrous realizations in everyday life and elevating the ordinary to a spiritual level.
The narrator was one of the best I have heard. Ironic when appropriate, but not heavy on drama or thick with accents.
I may have to listen again.
I will add one thing. It seems that I have recently read a fair number of audiobooks that, while very good, are not contemporary. This must be the fourth book in a row that takes place in the 1990's and early 2000s. Are all the recent books confined to the violent thriller bestseller genre? Since thrillers are not my preference there appears to be a lack of current fiction with a "family and relationships" theme. Introspective books that explore emotional perspectives seem to be missing from audible's selections lately.
Fascinating, lively meditations on love, gender, what sex means; all rolled up with info on a sexual genetic defect, into an engrossing saga of the individuals in a messy family over some thirty years. At first you think that "the condition" is merely a genetic problem that the little girl suffers from, and gradually you begin to see that each of the characters has their own "condition," with which they each struggle. And, though the novel is a story of problems, it doesn't feel dark. There is some cheer. People do evolve. Transformations are made. And the narrator is excellent. A note, though, for anyone wanting to use this audiobook in a noisy environment, as I attempted to: the narrator uses a breathy voice that is pleasant for listening but which does not carry well in competition with noise. Save this good book for a quiet place.
At first I thought the book was on the road to ennui. I stuck with it, and was enamored. Each character's life is captivating. I was also pleasantly surprised with Gwen's story since I live in Pittsburgh. The author is very true to Pittsburgh's environment. A must listen.
I agree with the person above, contemporary literature can take many forms, it doesn't have to be just the bestseller thrillers. This book does a great job with some real "Today" issues, while being entertaining, touching and ironic and downright funny in parts. Loved it!
By the way, the previous reviewer may enjoy books by Don Delillo, Richard Russo, the book "Return to Wando Passo," and the book "The Abstinence Teacher" if they are looking for good, "alternative" contemporary choices. There's lots of others, check out Oprah's list. I haven't been disappointed yet.
I believe I chose this book from one of Audible's "best" lists, which I feel are fairly worthwhile for me. But in this case this book didn't measure up--at least for me. I thought the plot was pretty contrived and nothing more than a soap opera. It's not that these people or plot weren't believable, but I didn't really care to get to know them or their issues. I finished, but was glad to go on to my next listen.
Terrific story, well told and delivered by an excellent narrator. The author provides amazing, human characterizations of this imperfect family. I have been spellbound.
Like another reviewer, I chose this book based on the Audible recommendation, and I, too, was very disappointed. The author continually presented situations where the characters could make a choice and change their lives, but instead they consistently made bad choices. There were so many opportunities to give the characters some depth; it's too bad the author kept her characters so one-dimensional.
I loved this book. The genre of "flawed family dynamics" can be really good or really bad...and this was a really good one. The characters of the family were well developed and believable, and the addition of a daughter with an unusual medical condition was accurately described with empathy. I could have listened to this one straight through, if my life hadn't interfered...
I truly loved this book the first time I listened, but recently chose "The Condition" for a book club selection, and found it even more enjoyable (and funny) with the second listen!
I've been listening to audiobooks for a few years, and this one ranks as one of the most pleasurable. The plot is interesting, the writing fantastic, and the narration solid. Highly recommend!
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