Tuesday, April 17, 2012

You Should Read Carol Anshaw

Reading Carol Anshaw's "Carry the One" made me an instant fan.  Here's why:

Whatever element causes romance to flare was simply not present in the air between them.  This was a huge relief to Alice.  Romance no longer looked like so much fun, more like a repetitive stress injury - beginning with Maude, but now also including all the failed and pathetic attempts to replicate that constellation of emotions with someone else.  She could measure this past effort in all the underwear she had left behind in apartments, all the bottles of pricey wine she had brought to dinner, all the recitations of bad childhoods and adult disappointments she had earnestly listened to.  Sometimes she made lists in her head, little catalogs of experience.  The first list was, of course, all the women she had by now slept with.  Taken individually, they seemed, at their various times, to hold the possibility of lasting love.  As opposed to now, so far down the line, when they could only be looked at in accumulation, as one then another fool's errand.  An offshoot list to this was the figure for how far she had gone for sex.  (Thirteen hours on a flight from Chicago to Tokyo then back to Chicago the next day has held the top spot for quite a while; she might never better this.)  Books she had read to get into somebody or other's bed (The Four-Gated City.  The Fountainhead.  Linda Goodman's Love Signs.  Women Who Run with the Wolves.)  Terrible music she had listened to because it was someone's idea of a mood enhancer.  (Hall & Oates.  Holly Near.  George Winston.  The Carpenters.  Celine Dion.)  Topics in which she had feigned interest during the short term (Juice fasts.  Rugby.  Celtic Dancing.  Bikram Yoga).  The longest list was the kinds of tea she had drunk in moments structured around the pretense that tea drinking was the reason for being in this or that cafe (Pergolesi, Kopi, Cafe Boost.) or kitchen, or side by side on this or that futon or sofa or daybed, sipping.  (Earl Grey.  Lapsang Suchoung.  Gunpowder.  Rooibos.  Sleepytime.  Morning Thunder.  Seren-i-tea.  Every possible pepperment and berry.  Plain Lipton.)  There was a stretch of time when tea became fetishized for her for being so linked with sex and romance, so reliable a harbinger of one or the other.
     She could scare herself with the renewable ingenuousness implied by this catalog.  Still, the alternative - the development of an acidic cynicism - seemed worse.  

Anyone who writes like that, you should read.  Pulling it out of context like this might lessen it's impact, but I hope not.  Anshaw articulates the character's struggle to fight the ennui of beginning another relationship, in such a specific voice, and blends it perfectly into the run of Alice's thoughts before and after this passage.  It's masterful work.  I don't know how someone creates an actual novel without a narrative thread, how an author manages to create plot out of distinct pieces spaced so far apart, but it's something you should experience.

I can't wait to catch up on Anshaw's other books.

Here's more love for her over at The Heat Lightning.

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