3 reviews

The Condition: A Novel
by Jennifer Haigh

Published: 2008-07-01
Hardcover : 400 pages
68 members reading this now
4 clubs reading this now
16 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 2 of 3 members
"Filled with genuine insight and touching lyricism." -- Kirkus Reviews

"Haigh’s characters are layered and authentic. Moreover, one would have to have a heart of stone not to care for them and follow their small sagas. . . . Haigh is such a gifted chronicler of the human condition." ...

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"Filled with genuine insight and touching lyricism." -- Kirkus Reviews

"Haigh’s characters are layered and authentic. Moreover, one would have to have a heart of stone not to care for them and follow their small sagas. . . . Haigh is such a gifted chronicler of the human condition." -- Chris Bohjalian, Washington Post Book World

The Condition tells the story of the McKotches, a proper New England family that comes apart during one fateful summer. The year is 1976, and the family, Frank McKotch, an eminent scientist; his pedigreed wife, Paulette; and their three beautiful children has embarked on its annual vacation at the Captain's House, the grand old family retreat on Cape Cod. One day on the beach, Frank is struck by an image he cannot forget: his thirteen-year-old daughter, Gwen, strangely infantile in her child-sized bikini, standing a full head shorter than her younger cousin Charlotte. At that moment he knows a truth that he can never again unknown something is terribly wrong with his only daughter. The McKotch family will never be the same. Twenty years after Gwen's diagnosis with Turner's syndrome, a genetic condition that has prevented her from maturing, trapping her forever in the body of a child, all five family members are still dealing with the fallout. Each believes himself crippled by some secret pathology; each feels responsible for the family's demise. Frank and Paulette are acrimoniously divorced. Billy, the eldest son, is dutiful but distant, a handsome Manhattan cardiologist with a life built on compromise. His brother, Scott, awakens from a pot-addled adolescence to a soul-killing job, a regrettable marriage, and a vinyl-sided tract house in the suburbs. And Gwen is silent and emotionally aloof, a bright, accomplished woman who spurns any interaction with those around her. She makes peace with the hermetic life she's constructed until, well into her thirties, she falls in love for the first time. And suddenly, once again, the family's world is tilted on its axis. Compassionate yet unflinchingly honest, witty and almost painfully astute, The Condition explores the power of family mythologies, the self-delusions, denials, and inescapable truths that forever bind fathers and mothers and siblings.

Editorial Review

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Discussion Questions

From the Author:

1. Discuss the significance of the book's title. What else might it refer to other than Gwen's Turner's syndrome?

2. In what ways does Gwen's condition reverberate throughout the McKotch family? What do Frank and Paulette's differing opinions about how to treat Gwen's condition reveal about their personalities and also about their relationship?

3. Paulette and Frank's marriage was rife with misunderstandings on both sides. Was one person more to blame than the other for their break-up? Of the two, who did you find to be more sympathetic? Why does Billy blame his father for the divorce?

4. What was your impression of Paulette? Do you suppose the author meant for her to be a likeable character?

5. Discuss Paulette's relationship with Donald and her infatuation with Gil Pyle. What did Paulette find in her relationship with Donald that she did not with Frank?

6. Frank often compares his working-class background in a Pennsylvania mining town with Paulette's pedigreed family, musing that everything comes down to upbringing. How does his children's upbringing affect the paths they take in life? Was Frank a bad father, as Paulette seemed to believe?

7. On the surface the three McKotch children are extremely different. In what ways, if any, are they alike?

8. Why does Gwen distance herself from her family both physically and emotionally? Why does she ultimately decide to forgive Rico and Scott but not her mother?

9. Do you agree with Paulette's decision to send Scott to St. Raphael to bring Gwen home? Why is it so difficult for Paulette to believe that a man might be attracted to Gwen? Is she merely being a protective mother?

10. Gwen ends up living on St. Raphael, worlds away from her isolated life in Pittsburgh and Concord before that. What does she find on the Caribbean island that she hasn't anywhere else? Why does she reconcile with Rico?

11. What prompts Billy to finally reveal to his family that he's gay? How do Paulette and Frank each react to the news?

12. By the time the family reconvenes at the Captain's House, what realizations has Scott come to about his life—professionally and romantically, as well as his role as a father? In what ways have the others changed by the time of the reunion?

13. Sense of place is an important theme in The Condition. How do the opening scenes at the Captain's House set the tone for the rest of the novel? What do the main characters' living spaces, from Paulette's 200-year-old Concord house to Billy's meticulously decorated New York City apartment, reveal about them?

14. What do you suppose the future holds for the five members of the McKotch family?

15. Jennifer Haigh unfolds the narrative from the alternating perspectives of Frank, Paulette, and their three children. In what ways did this enhance your reading of the story?

16. Overall, what are your thoughts about the way the author presents the McKotches? Did you find their story to be a realistic and believable one?

17. If you have read Jennifer Haigh's previous novels, Baker Towers and Mrs. Kimble, discuss the similarities and differences between those two books and The Condition.

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

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Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "Why?"by Connie W. (see profile) 10/05/12

It seemed like the first half of the book contained way too much backstory.

  "The Condition"by Freya P. (see profile) 08/26/11

  "Redemption at the end"by Donna S. (see profile) 12/17/09

Slow in the beginning, and not many redeeming qualities in any of the characters, but they all pulled it together by the end. I was satisfied with the ending.

  " enjoyed this book"by E T. (see profile) 02/27/09

I am in the medical profession, so I thought this book was particularly good at showing how a medical diagnosis can really affect a family. Interesting character development.

  "excellent book"by Ellen t. (see profile) 11/03/08

nice character development. Liked the insight into how a medical "condition" affects someone personally and how other family members respond to it, and how the person herself responded to it.

  "interesting look at how a medical diagnosis affects a family"by ellen t. (see profile) 11/03/08

Enjoyed this look into a family where a significant medical diagnosis is made.

  "Really liked this book"by LN T. (see profile) 10/29/08

I liked this book for the way it looked at the personal implications for an individual and family for having a diagnosis of a "condition". Turner's sydrome in this book was also discussed extremely well.... (read more)

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