Carry the One, by Carol Anshaw, Simon & Schuster, RRP£25.00, 272 pages

Anshaw’s superb novel opens in 1983, in the wake of a bohemian wedding on a Wisconsin farm. A car full of stoned and sleepy guests pulls into the night – then hits and kills a young girl.

The narrative follows those involved in the incident over the next three decades, tracing the trajectories of their lives. Alice, an artist, uses her paintings to exorcise her feelings of guilt; Nick, an astronomer, finds solace in drink and drugs; Carmen, a social worker, throws herself into progressive politics. All this might sound heavy but Anshaw brings a leavening irony to the material. She has a knack for capturing a personality in a single phrase (Alice’s girlfriend Maude is a flighty actress manqué whose “fascination with hypothetical versions of herself was bottomless”).

A lesser writer might have been tempted to reconcile the characters at the end, to offer them a communal catharsis. Anshaw resists. Here, as in real life, closure is elusive.

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