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Carol Anshaw's book on loss resonates

“Carry the One” (Simon and Schuster, 2012), the fourth novel by author and painter Carol Anshaw, is one of the best-reviewed novels of 2012. The story concerns a group of friends, including siblings Carmen, Alice and Nick, who are involved in an accident resulting in the death of a young girl named Casey. Casey is “the one” in the title whom the survivors of the accident carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Each survivor finds a way of coming to terms with the tragedy. Alice, for instance, paints portraits of the child. Throughout the novel, Anshaw balances the sorrow with generous doses of humor, which is only one of the reasons why the book is such a triumph.

Gregg Shapiro: “Carry the One” has received exceptional press. Were you prepared for the reception?

Carol Anshaw: No, of course! I’m a total worrywart. So imagined horrible, savage (laughs) reviews. But they haven’t been. On the other hand, it’s a book I took a very long time writing, and ... I revised it and revised it. I compressed it from 350 to 250 pages. I get so many emails every day from readers who, in one way or another, so appreciate the book in the ways that I wanted people to get it. That’s an author’s dream. Forget the cocktail party or the Amazon ranking.

Dogs play a supporting role in “Carry the One,” as they did in “Lucky in the Corner.” What can you tell me about the role dogs play in your life?

It’s huge. I enjoy the company of dogs, I guess I would say. I go to the dog beach every day with (my dog) Tom. For him, mostly, but maybe a quarter of it is for me to play with other dogs, to have them come up to me. I’m honored if a Great Dane comes up to me and stands next to me and allows me to pet him or her (laughs). Dogs are great. They’re just too wonderful. And once you know them, you get a little glimpse of their world.

You write, “Painting was a world without clocks.” Would you say that that is true of writing, too?

No. No, when I’m painting, I could lose four or five hours. I know that I’m thirsty or I have to pee or whatever it is that brings me back, gets me out of that chair to go down the hall. That never happens to me with writing. There are a lot of differences between the ways that you use your brain. I can tell because I play rock music while I’m painting, but I could never do that while I’m writing. I’m using my brain in different ways. I think I’m writing in a more conscious way than I am painting. Because if you ask me what am I thinking while I’m painting, I would have a hard time calling that up.

The relationship of the siblings – Carmen, Alice and Nick – are at the center of the novel. Do you have siblings, and if so, how does your relationship with them compare to the one shared by the siblings in “Carry the One”?

I’ve always longed for a sister. I don’t have one. My brother’s addictions are Nick’s, and he also did not make it.

So you made a very personal investment in this book.

I had wanted to write a character with (my brother) Doug’s addictions, and I asked him while he was still alive and he said, “Yeah, get the stories out there.” I created a different person, but with his addictions. You see a lot about addicts in literature, but not so much about the families and how far down that pulls everybody; the centrifuge spinning around this craziness, entering a world that you have no understanding of.

Nick is portrayed as something of a hopeless case when it comes to addiction and recovery. Do you think Nick, and by extension Doug, is an exception to the rule –or do you think it is possible for an addict to overcome addictions?

After Doug died, a friend of mine who is big in AA told me that ... (Doug) was the worst she’d ever heard of. His stories to me ... he told me that there were people worse than him. There was a guy who lost his stomach to whiskey, and he had a feeding tube. And they came into the hospital room, and he was pouring a fifth of bourbon down the feeding tube. It can get worse than my brother, but he was pretty ferocious. He wasn’t just an alcoholic, he was an addict, too. A barrel of fun there. But I wish he was still alive every day.

How long has he been gone?

He died on New Year’s Eve of 2003/2004. His death certificate says 2004.

The intimate relationships in “Carry the One” don’t seem to last. Is that a reflection of the lasting impact of the traumatic event that the characters shared? Or do you think that their relationships were doomed regardless?

I think it’s more an authorial convenience. To have the changes in their relationships be signals of how they’re changing as people. I needed some shifting around.

In terms of relationships, do you consider yourself a cynic or a hopeless romantic?

A hopeless romantic, totally (laughs).

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