Synopses & Reviews
Raised on their parents Kentucky horse farm, Charlotte and Knox Bolling grow up steeped in the cycles of breeding, foaling, weaning, and preparation for sale that the Thoroughbreds around them undergo each year. As sisters, they are as tightly connected within that vast and beautiful landscape as their opposing natures—and the subtly shifting allegiances within their close family—allow.
When Charlotte leaves Four Corners Farm, marries Bruce, and moves to Manhattans West Village, the sisters feelings for each other remain as intense and contradictory as ever, despite the distance between them. But nothing will solder their lives more fatefully than Charlottes pregnancy and the day on which she delivers twin boys, then dies of complications following their birth.
Together, Knox and Bruce—sister- and brother-in-law in name, but strangers in every other respect—take up the work of caring for Charlottes two motherless boys. In their mourning, and in the joy and desolation that flood in as their love for the children deepens, Bruce and Knox confront the ways in which their bonds to Charlotte have shaped them and struggle to define the tentative bond they are forming with each other as they navigate their exhausting, emotional daily rounds. A gripping, powerfully affecting debut novel from a stunning new writer.
"Clay's promising if uneven debut scrutinizes the complicated relationship between two very different sisters. Knox Bolling has always resented her beautiful sister, Charlotte, and blames Charlotte for her situation. She's 34, living on her parents' Kentucky horse farm and unable to commit to her boyfriend's repeated marriage proposals. Charlotte, on the other hand, has moved to New York City, where she dabbles in acting and holds a series of dead-end jobs before meeting money manager Bruce Tavert, who, after a brief courtship, proposes. Their intention to start a family, however, proves deadly for Charlotte, who dies in childbirth, leaving Bruce with premature twin boys and providing Knox with an opportunity to explore life outside of Kentucky by coming to New York to help Bruce. Things quickly get creepy as Knox tries out life as Charlotte, and the narrative takes on a stark gothic eeriness. New York is more difficult than Kentucky for Clay to nail down, and some of Knox's late-book behavior verges on Fatal Attraction type obsession before backtracking into something just short of prudent uplift. It's a strange mix not altogether unappealing, but not a knockout, either." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
What does it mean to honor the memory of someone you loved but may have never fully known? Heather Clays riveting debut novel, about the overlapping lives of two starkly different sisters, will invite comparisons to Sue Miller, Jane Hamilton, and Elizabeth Strout.
Born and raised on their parents lush Kentucky horse farm, Charlotte and Knox Bolling grew up intimately connected; yet their bond frayed as one of them sought to rebel within their close family. When Charlotte moves north to New York and marries Bruce, leaving her sister firmly rooted on home soil, the two women seem to stand on opposite sides of a geographic and ever-widening emotional divide. But their fates are forever intertwined when Charlotte dies giving birth to twin boys, and Knox steps into her sisters vanished life for an interim to help care for them. For Knox and Bruce grief is initially subsumed by exhaustion and duty as they plow through their daily rounds. The crucible of their devastating weeks together is the backdrop against which these survivors, all but strangers to each other, will be tested in unforeseen ways and grapple with a deeper understanding of the woman they both loved.
Lyrical, haunting, and psychologically acute, Losing Charlotte marks the emergence of an electrifying new storyteller.
Sisters Charlotte and Knox Bolling grew up intimately connected; yet their bond frayed as one of them sought to rebel. Their fates are forever intertwined when Charlotte dies giving birth to twin boys, and Knox steps into her sister's vanished life.
About the Author
Heather Clay is a graduate of Middlebury College and Columbia Universitys School of the Arts. She has published short fiction in The New Yorker and written for Parenting. She lives in New York City with her husband and their two daughters. This is her first novel.
Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group's discussion of Losing Charlotte, the riveting and deeply moving debut novel from Heather Clay.
1. What does the prologue tell us about what’s to come?
2. On page 16, Clay writes about Knox, “[Life] traveled in concentric circles around her, like orbiting matter, and her job was to stay fixed and let that happen.” In what ways does Knox’s view of life change, and in what ways does it stay the same?
3. What does the scene on pages 21–23, which describes the loss of Ned’s finger, tell us about Ned’s attitude in general?
4. How does the author use life on a horse farm as a metaphor?
5. Discuss the points of view in the novel. Why do you think the author alternates between Knox and Bruce? What more do we learn this way?
6. Knox believes that she and Charlotte are as different as can be. Is she right about that? In what ways are they similar?
7. How does each character respond to Charlotte’s death? Who has the healthiest attitude? The most dangerous?
8. Discuss Knox’s relationship with her parents. What role does she play in the family? What role did Charlotte play?
9. What do you imagine has happened in the weeks between Part I and Part II?
10. Compare Knox’s relationship with Robbie to the one she had with Charlotte. Why are the relationships so different? Is it merely gender?
11. On page 146, Clay writes of Bruce, “He needed a secret. He needed something outside his life with Charlotte to help him fashion a space, even as thin as a membrane, around himself so he could function apart.” How does this need manifest itself? Is his action selfish? What about the confession?
12. A few pages later, on page 151, Knox thinks, “Everyone [has] something indelible in them, lodged deep in their features; Ned’s something [is] kindness.” What is Knox’s something? Charlotte’s? Bruce’s
13. Discuss the fight Knox has with Charlotte on pages 168–169. What significance does it have?
14. In what ways is New York Knox different from Kentucky Knox?
15. Why does Knox try on Charlotte’s slip? (See page 207.)
16. On page 213, Knox says, “I’m here for the wrong reasons.” Why is she there?
17. Why do Knox and Bruce have such different takes on Charlotte’s memorial service?
18. Were you surprised by what happened next? How do you explain Knox and Bruce’s actions?
19. Why is Knox’s decision to “move through” the moment (on page 242) so revelatory?
20. On page 248 the author writes, “There were moments in everyone’s life, Knox supposed, that showed you that you weren’t the person you thought.” How does Knox’s self-image change by the end of the novel?
21. Discuss the ending. Was it satisfying? Where do you imagine things go from here?
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