Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Book Review: "Bittersweet" (Miranda Beverly-Whittemore)

In the American gothic novel, Bittersweet, college student Mabel Dagmar is a social outcast rooming with Genevra Katherine Winslow, a socialite from an extremely wealthy and well-to-do family. When Ev invites Mabel to Winloch, the Winslow family estate, for the summer, Mabel agrees immediately. Once there, she spends her time swimming, meeting the family, learning all the appropriate nuances and courtesies of the rich and famous, and dreaming about never going back to her old, lower class life.

But underneath the beautiful, glamorous veneer, something isn't right at Winloch. Ev becomes secretive and depressive, mysteriously vanishing for long periods of time and returning with no warning or explanation. Ev's three brothers have demons of their own to battle, including Galway, who takes an unexpected liking to Mabel.

When someone turns up dead, Ev's family bands together to keep their darkest secrets hidden, even if it means bribing Mabel to look the other way. With the final horrifying revelation, Mabel's make-believe world at Winloch falls apart, and she must choose between remaining a wealthy socialite, pretending that all is well when it's not, or returning to her low-born origin with no proof of the crimes she's found committed.

A New York Times bestseller, Bittersweet is a work of literary fiction combined with elements of mystery, suspense, and romance. Author Miranda Beverly-Whittemore  painstakingly crafts each sentence and paragraph: dialogue, description, exposition, action alike are devised with great care.

This novel is not a work of commercial fiction; it's a work of substance, tackling age-old family secrets and the extents to which people will go to project a certain facade to maintain their place in an influential segment of society. Consequently, perhaps because of the style and the weighty material, the pacing sometimes drags, especially between the periodic crises in the plot line.

Most of the characters, especially each member of Ev's family, are three-dimensional, with their own motivations and agendas. Point-of-view protagonist Mabel fell flatter, with her naivete and self-centered desire to belong at nearly any cost, and was less than the likable or even sympathetic protagonist I prefer.

I also found the conclusion to the novel unsatisfying, and I was disappointed in that. I had hoped for an ending that would satisfy my sense of honor, ethics, and values, rather than one that left me wondering what had been the point of the work in the first place if the inevitable ending was really that obvious from the beginning.

I likely will not read Bittersweet again, but it's an excellently crafted work of literary fiction, if that's your particular cup of tea.

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Title: Bittersweet
Author: Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
ISBN: 978-0-8041-3856-7
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received this book free from the publisher through the Blogging for Books review program in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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