I am a big fan of Jennifer Haigh’s novels. I enjoyed Mrs. Kimble and loved Baker Towers so much that I read it twice and convinced my book group to read it, too (they all loved it, too). So I was thrilled when my neighbor lent me The Condition, another novel by Haigh that takes an in-depth look into the intricacies of family relationships.
The McKotch family are classic New Englanders: living in a stately colonial in Massachusetts, returning every summer to their house in Cape Cod, and accustomed to keeping their emotions inside and their family problems secret. When their daughter, Gwen, is diagnosed with a rare genetic condition called Turner’s Syndrome that keeps her body childlike, it is the beginning of the end. Not long after, patriarch Frank gets divorced from his wife Paulette, and the years pass. Their oldest son, Billy, becomes a successful surgeon. Their youngest son, Scott, wastes his expensive boarding school education and drifts into both a job and a marriage he regrets, while Gwen tries to get on with her adult life in spite of the stifling overprotection of her mother.
But all of them have secrets – secrets from each other, secrets from the people around them, and even secrets they don’t want to admit to themselves. The novel explores these disparate lives and family ties. This is Jennifer Haigh’s genius: portraying and dissecting family relationships, showing how we can push away the people closest to us but we can never escape those bonds. As you read the novel, you understand that “the condition” refers not only to Gwen’s medical problems but that every character has some sort of condition or challenge that they are struggling with, just as in real life.
I really enjoyed this novel, as did almost everyone in my book group. It was compelling and well written, with in-depth characters I came to care about (even though I sometimes wanted to shake them). I can’t wait to read Haigh’s latest release, Faith.
390 pages, Harper Perennial