Bittersweet, Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
Published May 13th 2014 by Crown
Suspenseful and cinematic, Bittersweet exposes the gothic underbelly of an American dynasty, 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, 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 swimming boldly is required and the children twirl sparklers across the lawn during cocktail hour. Mabel falls in love with the midnight skinny-dips, the wet dog smell lingering in the air, the moneyed laughter carrying across the still lake, and before she knows it, she has everything she’s ever wanted: wealth, friendship, a boyfriend, and, most of all, the sense, for the first time in her life, that she belongs.
But as Mabel becomes an insider, she makes a terrible discovery, which leads to shocking violence and the revelation of the true source of the Winslows’ fortune. Mabel must choose: either expose the ugliness surrounding her and face expulsion from paradise, or keep the family’s dark secrets and redefine what is good and what is evil, in the interest of what can be hers.
If you’re looking for a book to take to the pool or the beach this is it! Unless you live in Chicago like me where it will likely snow again next week. But really-get this book! This felt long, but I flew through the ending while ignoring my husband at night to see what choices Mabel made for herself.
Anyway, back to the beginning…
We meet Mabel during the school year. Mabel is the poor and overweight roommate of the rich, glamorous, beautiful and somewhat thoughtless Ev. When Ev begins to accept Mabel into her life and invites her Winloch for the summer Mabel sees a summer of perfection ahead. Mabel hints as to the reasons she doesn’t want to go home for the summer; including violence from her father, tension with her mother, and the desperate desire to avoid working under her parents’ watch at their dry cleaning business.
Winloch is the summer estate where the Winslows – approximately 100 of them – spend every summer, each in their own cottage. Ev is coming of age to inherit her own cottage and she and Mabel move into Bittersweet and make it their own. Mabel knows that she’s not a Winslow, that she does not have the money, the class, or the claim to Winloch, but she desperately wants to belong.
When Ev’s eccentric aunt Indo hints to Mabel that if she helps her with a project for her own inheritance that she might pass her cottage down to Mabel, Mabel has to act. She begins going through the family papers and starts wondering how the Winslows survived the Great Depression and kept on getting richer.
I won’t get into all of the secrets but I will say that while some I saw coming, the end of this book was not at all what I expected! We learn why Ev keeps her bedroom door triple-bolted at night, murders take place and are solved and the money behind the Winslows is uncovered. None of the characters in this book are innocent and they are definitely all dislikeable at times. I think that makes for a stronger book, when you’re so caught up and excited, even when you don’t know what outcome you want!
My only complaint was about Mabel’s secret. Its hinted at throughout the book and finally is brought out in the final confrontation. But I would have liked to know more about what happened. Mabel never addresses her past head on, its only alluded to in her unsent letters to her mother or this one discussion of her brother. I would have liked the full story.
BIttersweet has summer love and drama all in a perfect venue. Definitely get this book for the summer and let me know how you feel about the Winslows! Would you like to go to Winloch?
Thank you Edelweiss and Crown Publishing for this advanced read copy in exchange for an honest opinion.