Charlotte Bacon’s third novel, Split Estate, examines the after-effects of suicide on a woman’s family.
The inspiration for Split Estate was a wave of women’s suicides in New York City during the 1970s. How did these events engender the plot for a novel?
I’ve known several people whose parents killed themselves, and have been struck at the devastation wrought by the choice of a parent to die. As a writer, I’m drawn to dark and drastic moments in people’s lives. I couldn’t get over the fact that those women on Park Avenue had resources, plush lives—and they had children. How could they still be so terribly sad? How do you leave a child to reckon with your pain?
Why did you choose to move your fictional family from Manhattan to Wyoming after the suicide?
I love horses, I love sky, and when I am in the American West I breathe more happily than anywhere else. I’m a native New Yorker; I’ve lived in Paris and New Hampshire. But it’s the West that opens something wild and unfettered in me. I have a large, uncomplicated love for that landscape and history.
You use the ethical issue of split estate (when coal-bed mining companies buy mineral rights from ranchers) to convey the split in each character’s life. How did you arrive at that insight?
I was at the Ucross Foundation one year when [coal-bed mining] was becoming an issue. I knew with a rare certainty that I would include this problem in my book and that it would serve as a guiding image for the story.
You excel at conveying the dimensionality of the characters, all of whom have flaws and vulnerabilities. You describe adolescence as an age “when children discover the practical necessity of secrets and start to live in daily duplicity.” Do you have teenage children?
No, my kids are little, one and seven, and I am most definitely past adolescence. But I remember it with stark clarity. I remember the growth of that secret life. You’re divided and suddenly that means you are grown up.
You’ve just moved from Brooklyn to Bali. Will this affect your next book?
We’ve moved here for my husband’s work. He’s the director of a new school for kids k—8. I’m delighted to have the chance to explore this fascinating culture. I don’t have plans to wrap the experience in a book—yet. I can’t imagine, however, that it won’t factor into future work.