Monday, March 16, 2009

Split Estate by Charlotte Bacon

Split Estate is a quietly powerful novel that examines the grief of the King family some time after Laura King jumped from their tenth-story New York City apartment, leaving no explanation. Arthur and his two teenaged children, Cam and Celia, are individually and collectively damaged by the suicide, and in desperation, Arthur drags Cam and Celia to live temporarily with his mother, Lucy, in his hometown of Callendar, Wyoming. Laura's memory isn't banished by a mere change of scene, however, and as the Kings struggle to relate to each other and adjust to life in Wyoming, each has grief and anger to contend with. The novel's title refers to the mining in Wyoming; as the ranching way of life has become harder and harder to sustain, families have begun to sell off the rights to mine their land, resulting in a split estate. Likewise, Laura still possesses the underlying foundation of the King family, and the question is whether they can either reclaim what they've lost or move on to lives without it.

Bacon's spare, precise prose illuminated with poetic turns of phrase ably compares the brutal reality of Wyoming with that of grief. As the Kings settle into their lives, there is hope that the change of scene might save what is left of the family. Chapters alternate between Arthur, Celia, Lucy, and Cam, but because the grief is collective as well as individual, this doesn't result in a lack of continuity; rather, the story is more nuanced and developed for the varied points of view. Each person has his secrets that are slowly revealed to the reader, and the ending is both shocking and inevitable. This is a beautiful, heartbreaking novel of despair, family, and Western life.

Now available in paperback. Click here for the page.

1 comment:

Lenore said...

That sounds really moving. I've read some of Kent Haruf and I like his modern western topics. I bought a few Louise Erdrich that I want to read soonish too.