I plucked this novel off the library shelf based solely on the fact that the blurb on the cover was from Esi Edugyan, an author whose work I admire. While the story didn’t quite live up to my expectations it was still an interestingly-told tale.
Our narrator is Ashe, fifteen years old, and the story begins with the death of his brother Will in a car accident. After the funeral, Ashe’s mother Nell locks herself in her bedroom and Ashe, whose father died when he was five, is left with his mother’s boyfriend and his aunt, though largely alone to deal with his own grief on top of his mother’s effectual abandonment. When Nell finally emerges she takes Ashe on a trip to Death Valley to reveal a secret she’s held for twenty years.
The premise is interesting and there are some truly poignant insights in to grief. Unfortunately, the book drags. There isn’t much action, there are a lot of conversations where the characters don’t say much but a lot is implied (or so we are told) through silences and certain looks, and there’s a strange and unnecessary addition or Ashe’s uncomfortable relationship with his sort of girlfriend. That’s not even touching on the strange and incestual relationship Ashe has with his mother’s sister.
A big part of the issue is the narration. We’re right in Ashe’s head but he seems to have insights beyond what is realistic for a fifteen-year-old. His relationships with everyone are confusing – both more insightful and less mature than you’d expect. The plot relies too much on Ashe understanding the things left unsaid and, especially when it comes to his mother’s final secret, this doesn’t ring true. Either for general human nature of Ashe as we’ve come to know him.
There is some strong writing here which makes me hopeful for future work from Gibney, but I Carried You Home is not quite there yet.