By Jennifer Haigh
Published: Harper Perennial; June 2009
Synopsis: A dysfunctional New England family struggles toward normalcy in this poignant novel from PEN/Hemingway-winner Haigh, who follows the children of resentful, controlling, Paulette and distracted, needy Frank. Even during a childhood in idyllic Cape Cod, there are hints of a rocky future. When that future arrives, Billy, the most successful of the children, keeps a secret about his sophisticated New York life from almost everyone. Scott, formerly the uncontrollable brat of the bunch, sees himself in his own troubled son. Meanwhile, Gwen suffers from a genetic condition that prevents her from developing into womanhood. The story starts slowly, and while the setup feels familiar (a fractured New England family), the children take unexpected turns that shake up the narrative, leading to the most surprising twist of all: despite the sobering events chronicled, there's a strong nod to the healing power of love. Haigh allows the reader to sympathize with each of the family members, and, in turn, to see their flaws and better understand them.
My Take: I was really excited to read this book because Haigh is one of my favorite authors. I absolutely loved her last two novels, 'Mrs. Kimble' and 'Baker Towers' and so I, naturally expected to feel the same about her latest. The premise for this book was interesting, but me, with my ability to judge a book by a cover, felt that cover was striking, and was willing to give it a whirl.
Let me start by saying that a heck of a lot happens in this novel so if this is a bit jumbled I apologize but I am going to try to hit on some of the major points! Gwen is one of the children of the family and has Turner's Syndrome, a condition I hadn't heard of before, and that is what the title is referring to. A lot of the story centers around 'the condition' and how it affected peoples lives. The story starts in the 1970s and the family's summer vacation home. Turner Syndrome can mean many things depending on what you have but one of the main symptom's is that women don't go through puberty. This summer Gwen is twelve and it suddenly becomes clear she is not developing at a normal pace.
Paulette, Gwen's mother, was a difficult character for me. She is a bit of a prude so having to deal with a symptom that centers around puberty and her daughter not developing could not be more embarrassing for her. Paulette and Frank, the parents, end up getting divorced. Not because of Gwen but I would say she is the catalyst.
The majority of the story takes place about twenty years after the family finds out about 'the condition'. I liked this. I thought the story might be all about getting tests done and dealing with diagnoses but instead all three children were adults and it was more about the affect of their parents divorce on their lives and Gwen's condition may have had on them.
This story, while maybe not as good as her other two novels for me, was pretty good and did a great job of showing a complicated cast of characters and how complicated, as humans we really all are. The characters all dealt with a lot of growth. While at the beginning they may have been using each other as a kind of crux, by the other they were not and I love a story where the characters grow.
(I got this book at a sale where all the proceeds went to charity)