The Condition: A Novel
Reading a Jennifer Haigh novel is like being invited into the living room of a family so you can learn all about them by unobtrusively observing them. This process begins from the outside in, but by the end of your visit, you've come to know these people from the inside out. It's not necessary to ask lots of questions, because, if you're patient, all will eventually be revealed. You may not always like the way some family issues are resolved, but the ending to the time you've spent with them is satisfying.That is how Jennifer Haigh unfolds her story about the McKotches: Frank, the father, Paulette, the mother, and their children, Billy, Gwen, and Scott. We're introduced to them at a typical family summer vacation when the McKotch offspring are all children, and the parents are, if not completely happily married, at least comfortably so. And then we become aware of "The Condition" at the center of this novel's story. Gwen McKotch is diagnosed with Turner's Syndrome, a genetic condition that prevents her body from maturing. Gwen's father, a scientist, wants to explore every avenue available to treat his daughter for a condition that can never be cured. Gwen's mother views Frank's approach to Gwen's medical condition almost as though it is a betrayal of his paternal duties. Since he was the one who noticed Gwen had a problem in the first place and wanted to face it head-on, Paulette takes the position that he might as well have created the condition. The marriage, and the family as well, does not survive the stress these opposing views put upon them as we discover when the book takes us 20 years beyond the original diagnosis.It doesn't take long before it becomes evident that Turner's Syndrome is not the only "condition" with which the McKotches are living. Each family member has his or her own personal condition that is easily blamed on the turmoil caused by the Turner's diagnosis, but in fact is something quite apart from the medical circumstances Gwen faced over the intervening years. As more and more information is revealed about the family, it's clear that with or without Gwen's illness, this family was going to have to face more than one Condition imposed upon each of its members. It is fascinating to watch how Haigh approaches each of her characters' problems. For me, it was most interesting to witness how each of the family members came to realize at some point how communication between those we love could avert so much of the hurt, confusion, resentment, and misunderstanding that occur because we usually draw our own conclusions and form lifelong patterns of behavior based upon scant factual knowledge. It is sad to finally see that 20 or more years worth of time could have been spent much more happily if people had been more honest with themselves and with each other. That's a life lesson from which most of us could benefit.This is Jennifer Haigh's third novel. She's also written Baker Towers, and the award winning Mrs Kimble. I would recommend any of her novels to those who enjoy characters as vividly drawn as people we actually know with life stories that are genuine and often make us reflect upon our own experiences or those of people close to us. I look forward with great anticipation to the next Jennifer Haigh novel. I'll be first in line at the bookstore.