The Condition

Jennifer Haigh’s The Condition is an enthralling glimpse into the life of a dysfunctional family. The McKotch family of Concord, Massachusetts had been a relatively happy upper middle class family until one summer trip to their home in Cape Cod changed their lives forever. Frank and Paulette McKotch had given birth to three children—two boys and a girl—and all were healthy, happy children until that summer.

That summer for the first time it became clear to Frank, a scientist who studied molecular developmental biology at MIT, that something was wrong with his then 12 year old daughter, Gwen. After seeing her with her cousin of the same age, Charlotte, he noticed major differences in how they were developing. Charlotte, the younger of the two, was at least a head taller than Gwen and was starting her pubertal development while Gwen still looked very much like a child. He mentioned his observations to Paulette but she denied anything was wrong. She claimed that she had been petite when she was younger as well. It was when she was diagnosed with Turner Syndrome, a chromosomal abnormality that affects 1 in 2000 females, that the two divorced. The divorce ended their summers at the Cape.

The novel truly begins twenty years after Gwen’s diagnosis in 1977and fast forwards to 1997. By that time the eldest son, Billy, was a cardiologist in New York; Gwen worked in the basement of the Stott Museum in Cambridge as a collections assistant; and Scott, the youngest, had just moved back to Massachusetts after getting married at a young age in California. He now worked as a soccer coach and English teacher at Ruxton, a private school. The only two siblings that had any kind of bond were Billy and Gwen who talked on the phone twice a week. Scott rarely contacted his siblings and his two children, Ian and Sabrina, had only first Paulette when they were respectively five and seven. Frank by this time was on the scientific advisory board of a pharmaceutical company and taught at the Grohl Institute at MIT. Paulette lived alone in Concord in the house the children had grown up in and Frank had left. Paulette continued to be in denial about Gwen’s condition and avoided discussing it with her family. Despite the fact that Gwen was the only one diagnosed with a condition, it seemed like each member of the family had conditions of their own.

Billy was hiding from his family the fact that he was gay and had a partner who was a scientist like Frank. Scott was addicted to smoking weed and had also been a drug user with his wife. Paulette hated the fact that she had lost her former beauty with age and Frank worried about the fact that he was not able to be as sexually active as he had once been. Gwen, despite the fact that she had Turner Syndrome, seemed to be the most well-adjusted of the family.

The family came together again towards the end of the novel when Gwen fell in love for the first time. Paulette who had always babied Gwen feared that she was being taken advantage of because of her condition while Billy and Frank thought there was nothing wrong with her new situation at all. In the end the family appeared to become more functional again bonding over this revelation.

The way the author wrote about the family made the characters seem more relatable to the reader. She clearly had done her research about Turner Syndrome and this novel serves as a great introduction to a condition that is common but uncommonly known. It proves that a condition does not have to limit what you are able to accomplish.


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