Review: Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

bittersweet“Suspenseful and cinematic, Bittersweet exposes the gothic underbelly of an idyllic world of privilege and an outsider’s hunger to belong.
On scholarship at a prestigious East Coast college, ordinary Mabel Dagmar is surprised to befriend her roommate, the beautiful, wild, blue-blooded Genevra Winslow. Ev invites Mabel to spend the summer at Bittersweet, her cottage on the Vermont estate where her family has been holding court for more than a century; it’s the kind of place where children twirl sparklers across the lawn during cocktail hour. Mabel falls in love with midnight skinny-dipping, the wet dog smell that lingers near the yachts, and the moneyed laughter that carries across the still lake while fireworks burst overhead. Before she knows it, she has everything she’s ever wanted:  friendship, a boyfriend, access to wealth, and, most of all, for the first time in her life, the sense that she belongs.
But as Mabel becomes an insider, a terrible discovery leads to shocking violence and reveals what the Winslows may have done to keep their power intact – and what they might do to anyone who threatens them. Mabel must choose: either expose the ugliness surrounding her and face expulsion from paradise, or keep the family’s dark secrets and make Ev’s world her own.” – Publisher Summary

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore is a twisted and tangled tale of love and friendship; of the wealthy and not-so-wealthy; of secrets and lies; of belonging and longing-to-belong. Mabel is from a working-class family in Oregon; her college roommate, Genevra, a member of a dynastic family of wealth. Initially feeling snubbed by Ev, Mabel is soon pulled into her circle and welcomed into the family, as she is invited to join them at their rural Vermont summer camp/compound, specifically to stay in Ev’s personal cottage – named Bittersweet.

Mabel meets an eclectic cast of characters as she is introduced to Ev’s family and the longtime estate employees, and begins to uncover hints of secrets that have been hidden for years. Encouraged by some to unravel some of these, and discouraged by others to allow some of them to remain secrets forever, Mabel is caught in the middle of a web of deceit and lies within a world of the wealthy elite that she longs to join.

My main issue (?) with this novel is it’s place in time – while there are many indicators that things are taking place in the present-day, with the exception of those indicators, I would have assumed this was taking place in the 1930’s or 1940’s. There was something about the college roommate situation and the golden-era private family compound that screamed “pre-WWII” to me. It just seemed like such an isolated, innocent (well, minus the sex & lies) time.

Whittemore’s writing was satisfactory, but there were many parts to the novel (such as the masturbation scene) that made no sense as to why they were included. It was a slowly moving read that was somewhat monotonous at times, however, things did pick up in the last fourth of the novel. And by “things picked up”, I mean the shit hit the fan in all the right ways. So Whittemore did have the outline for a great story, she just took her time getting there.

After reading the novel, the action at the end made up for the earlier monotony and I was eventually glad I had read the book. You will be, too.

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore. Buy it, read it, love it.

3.5 stars

Source: Crown Publishing {via NetGalley}



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