It all started with a tantalizing article in the New York Times: the writer wrote of her experience of a dream I happen to share, expatriating herself and her family to Bali. (This was actually more my dream when I was young and single: the idea of moving our brood anywhere again is daunting, though not unimaginable.) I read the article, only salivating slightly, then looked at the accompanying photograph, a smiling family of four, the parents grinning in Balinese sarongs, clutching onto cute kids attempting to escape the camera. It could have been any family, including mine. But I looked closer, and read the caption. I knew this family, sort of: I recognized Bacon’s husband as a high school classmate of mine.
My husband will tell you that I can’t cross a street, anywhere in the world, without running into someone I know. This is not true. However, I do have a knack for remembering those whose paths I’ve crossed, and Charlotte Bacon’s husband is one. (For the record, he was, and I presume is, a lovely man and a very talented artist.)
But I learned Charlotte and I have one more connection, however tenuous. In addition to living my Balinese dream, she’s also quite successfully living out another. She’s written four novels (and, it bears mentioning, won the PEN/Faulkner prize for First Fiction for her first publication, a 1997 book of short stories entitled A Private State. Not shabby.) Given that, unusually for me, I have focused on mysteries this summer (witness my ongoing venture into Joan Schenkar’s superb biography of Patricia Highsmith) I opted first for Bacon’s most recent book, The Twisted Thread.
At Armitage Academy, a New England prep school, senior Claire Harkness is found dead in her dorm room. The newborn son she’s just secretly delivered is missing. A young teacher discovers that girls in Claire’s dorm, bound by loyalty to (and perhaps fear of) Claire, not to mention the traditions of a secret society they call the Reign (think the French Revolution’s reign of terror) know more than they’re telling.
I confess that I’m only a third of the way through, but I had to force myself to stop reading last night in order to go to sleep…and this is the book I’m taking to the hammock with me later this afternoon. It’s been compared, rightly, to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. Yes, the two books share genre (mystery) and setting, schools for privileged kids, but they also share elegant, subtle prose. Whatever web Bacon ultimately weaves in The Twisted Thread, I know it will be surprising and well-drawn. I’ve already got an earlier novel of hers, The Split Estate, waiting on my always-overloaded nightstand.
Keep me posted: what’s your latest pick for this summer’s must-read?