Fiction Heather Clay Losing Charlotte

ISBN 13: 9780099445562

Losing Charlotte

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9780099445562: Losing Charlotte

Born and raised on a thoroughbred horse farm in the green hills of Kentucky, Knox Bolling has grown up steeped in the comforting rhythms of family life. Deep ties bind her to this safe, predictable existence, but Knox knows the world has more to offer - excitements that her tempestuous and beautiful older sister, Charlotte, seems to have within her grasp when she marries and moves away to Manhattan's West Village. Then disaster strikes. Nothing could have prepared Knox for the loss of her sister. But the powerful bond remains, and she finds her loyalty to Charlotte tested more profoundly and fatefully than she could have imagined. As she starts to come to terms with her elusive sister's life, Knox learns deeply moving lessons for her own ...

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Review:

A Q&A with Author Heather Clay

Question: This is your first novel. What was your inspiration for writing Losing Charlotte?

Heather Clay: I had heard of maternal deaths like the one that occurs in Losing Charlotte, and I suppose the inspiration for a book came at the point my imagination took over after the bare facts of such accounts had been related to me. These deaths are rare, but they do happen, and the idea of something so Victorian happening in a modern hospital setting led me to wonder how such an event would affect the modern family--in which, for example, the old-fashioned expectation that a widower might court his wife’s surviving sister has ceased to exist, but might be rattling around subconsciously somewhere in the mind of one or more of the characters. The plot and questions that coalesced around such an event brought much that I wanted to explore about family ties, place, and the gaps siblings are asked to fill in for one another to the surface, and the writing took off from there.

Question: The story unfolds in two locations: a horse farm in Kentucky and the West Village in New York City. You live in New York now. Did you grow up on a farm?

Heather Clay: I did. The setting of Four Corners Farm is almost completely autobiographical; my family runs a Thoroughbred horse farm in central Kentucky, which functions as its own little universe, and had always been a seminal place in my life and writing. The contrast between the two places where I spend the majority of my time--Kentucky and New York--and between the notions of North and South, as well as the community life that a family farm necessitates versus the isolation and independence possible in a large city, seemed fertile ground to plow as I told the story of two sisters with very distinct personalities and lives.

Question: The story is told from the perspectives of two characters--Charlotte’s sister Knox and Charlotte’s husband Bruce. Did you always know that Charlotte’s character would come to be shaped through Knox and Bruce? Who was more difficult to write?

Heather Clay: The novel went through more populous incarnations; at one point, every character in it had a voice. But as the book began to take shape in part as the story around an absence, a lacuna which each of Charlotte’s family members would describe somewhat differently and mourn differently, it made sense to me to focus in on the two characters who had the most to lose when she died: Bruce, for obvious reasons, and Knox, because she has so much unfinished business with Charlotte, and because she defines herself by the ways in which she is different from Charlotte, and has no practice existing without her sister to measure herself against.

I knew I wanted Knox and Bruce in the same house, bumping up against each other and caring for babies, but throughout, I found Bruce’s voice much easier to write in. I’m not sure why. Perhaps I chafed at times against Knox’s regressive tendencies, her desire to arrest herself in an idealized past. Or simply that Bruce’s story falls more outside my own experience, so I felt freer to imagine it.

Question: The relationship that grows between Knox and Bruce, who are virtually strangers brought together after Charlotte’s death, is fascinating. How did you approach developing this dynamic?

Heather Clay: I was afraid to go there, at first, which was part of why I kept writing chapter upon chapter in different voices. I was circling the scenes I needed to create between the two of them very warily, because I didn’t want to descend into cliché, and yet I knew that, in some form, whether verbally, sexually, or otherwise, they needed to confront each other. At once point, I kept sending Bruce out for long, meandering walks, just to keep from diving in to the dynamic you describe! Finally, there was nothing left but to write those scenes, as halting and awkward and difficult to render as they were.

Question: You have two daughters and have written for Parenting Magazine. Were you already a mother when you started writing Losing Charlotte? The atmospheric way you write about the babies in their surroundings is very striking.

Heather Clay: One of the fantastic and unexpected boons of having stewed over the book so long was the experience I gained in the meantime: becoming a mother to two baby girls! Certainly, becoming steeped in infant care, physically, emotionally, and every-which-way, made my rendering of the day-to-day tasks Bruce and Knox face more accurate, and hopefully their responses to Ethan and Ben deeper and richer on the page. Sometimes I wonder if I could only have started a book about a mother’s death in childbirth before I had children, and only finished it--and sounded halfway knowledgeable--once my daughters were here.

Question: Whom do you read who inspires you? What are you reading now?

Heather Clay: I just finished Penelope Lively’s Family Album, which I found very interesting, and am in the middle of Mary Carr’s Lit right now. I’ve been lucky enough this year to discover Elizabeth Bowen. I can’t wait to read the new Alice Munro! Anything about that family ache, about what’s unsaid, misunderstood, the simple and tragic passage of time... am I describing all fiction right now? I guess all fiction inspires me, then. If it’s good.

(Photo © Elena Seibert)

About the Author:

Heather Clay is a graduate of Middlebury College and Columbia University's School of the Arts. She has published short fiction in The New Yorker's debut fiction issue, and written for Parenting magazine. She lives in New York City with her husband and their two daughters. This is her first novel.

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Book Description Cornerstone, United Kingdom, 2011. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Born and raised on a thoroughbred horse farm in the green hills of Kentucky, Knox Bolling has grown up steeped in the comforting rhythms of family life. Deep ties bind her to this safe, predictable existence, but Knox knows the world has more to offer - excitements that her tempestuous and beautiful older sister, Charlotte, seems to have within her grasp when she marries and moves away to Manhattan s West Village. Then disaster strikes. Nothing could have prepared Knox for the loss of her sister. But the powerful bond remains, and she finds her loyalty to Charlotte tested more profoundly and fatefully than she could have imagined. As she starts to come to terms with her elusive sister s life, Knox learns deeply moving lessons for her own . Bookseller Inventory # AB99780099445562

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Book Description Cornerstone, United Kingdom, 2011. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Born and raised on a thoroughbred horse farm in the green hills of Kentucky, Knox Bolling has grown up steeped in the comforting rhythms of family life. Deep ties bind her to this safe, predictable existence, but Knox knows the world has more to offer - excitements that her tempestuous and beautiful older sister, Charlotte, seems to have within her grasp when she marries and moves away to Manhattan s West Village. Then disaster strikes. Nothing could have prepared Knox for the loss of her sister. But the powerful bond remains, and she finds her loyalty to Charlotte tested more profoundly and fatefully than she could have imagined. As she starts to come to terms with her elusive sister s life, Knox learns deeply moving lessons for her own . Bookseller Inventory # AB99780099445562

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Book Description Cornerstone. Paperback. Book Condition: new. BRAND NEW, Losing Charlotte, Heather Clay, Born and raised on a thoroughbred horse farm in the green hills of Kentucky, Knox Bolling has grown up steeped in the comforting rhythms of family life. Deep ties bind her to this safe, predictable existence, but Knox knows the world has more to offer - excitements that her tempestuous and beautiful older sister, Charlotte, seems to have within her grasp when she marries and moves away to Manhattan's West Village. Then disaster strikes. Nothing could have prepared Knox for the loss of her sister. But the powerful bond remains, and she finds her loyalty to Charlotte tested more profoundly and fatefully than she could have imagined. As she starts to come to terms with her elusive sister's life, Knox learns deeply moving lessons for her own . Bookseller Inventory # B9780099445562

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