Clay’s debut novel has plenty to say about familial relationships in general and sisterhood in particular.
The two sisters in a well-to-do Kentucky horse-raising family couldn’t be more different, at least from the perspective of the younger. Charlotte is older, prettier, more daring and impulsive. She sneaks away whenever she can and moves away, ultimately to New York, as soon as possible. Knox takes the other role—dependable, dutiful, solid, yet simmering with resentment at the sister who has aroused her jealousy and left her with their parents. There “was a familiar rhythm between Knox and Charlotte, or had been in the years since they’d become grown women who nevertheless remembered what it was like to hurl childish invective at each other, to love and hate each other so nakedly, and so simultaneously, that the mere existence of the other could serve as an intolerable, maddening offense.” Things change, or at least show the potential for change, when Charlotte marries a man she barely knows, “Yuppie Bruce,” with whom she experiences a difficult conception and succumbs to complications in childbirth. So both her husband and her family have lost Charlotte, as have her baby twin sons, depriving the novel of the only character who has shown the possibility for dimensions beyond cliché. Flashbacks keep Charlotte’s memory alive while confusing the chronology of the narrative, as Knox and Bruce, who barely know each other, stumble toward more reflective insights into themselves, each other and Charlotte. “It was a mystery, having a sister,” realizes Knox, now that she no longer has one. Meanwhile, her parents and her fiancé (who works for Knox’s father and whose affectionate name for her is “Ugly”) offer little surprise or revelation.
The main problem with this domestic melodrama is that the absence of the title character leaves a big hole not only in the family dynamic but in the plot. Like her family, the reader misses Charlotte.