Sunday, August 24, 2014

Bittersweet (or a Summer of Assholes) by Miranda Beverly-Whittmore's how they describe Bittersweet.  "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."

This book took me a bit by surprise.  I was expecting a thriller type of book, but this was actually more of a gothic novel.  It was like a modern day Great Gatsby with a big dash of Kate Morton (who I love, love, love).

Mabel is a hard character to root for.  It's vaguely suggested that she might have done something not so good when she was younger (and when you find out what it is, you will agree, NOT SO GOOD), and that now she is a chubby, ugly duckling, who through college roommate status has become best friends with Ev.  Although she isn't treated super well.  She tends to get ignored for days and insulted, but then Ev throws a cashmere sweater at her and all is forgiven.  As Ev says, "Cashmere makes everything better."  There are many times that I was thinking she should tell Ev to go eff herself, but Mabel is so greedy and so hopeful that the crazy Aunt Indo will die and bequeath her cottage to her, that she sticks around through everything. 

The only way Aunt Indo will give up the cottage is if Mabel will find the dirt on the family by digging through old family documents - and really, what's a polite house guest to do?  Start digging in an attempt to bring your best friend's family down, of course!  Not sure cashmere can make this better....

No spoilers here, but some of the things she discovers are truly heinous.  And apparently, being a family member doesn't protect you from danger, but dum-dum still desperately wants to belong to the Winslow's.  Murder, rape, Nazi's?  Small prices to pay for a summer at the family compound.  (Jesus, it sounds like Christmas with the Kennedy's!).

Anyway, her ultimate choice shows that she really is no heroine, and pretty much cut from the same cloth.  They try to show that she has helped improve the family by tacitly approving more murder, and paying it forward to the Jewish people (how terribly white of you), but honestly, she's just an asshole.
The only un-asshole thing she could really do is run screaming from that house of horrors and never look back.  But she doesn't.  And after the revelation about her brother, I wasn't really surprised.

Great read, idyllic summer location, completely full of assholes.  Oh yeah, and it wouldn't truly be a gothic novel unless there were weird sex scenes.  In gothic novels, people like to secretly watch each other - that's how you know they're gothic.

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