Our human nature always leads us to assume that the ‘grass is always greener’. We tend to think that others’ lives are happier, more fulfilling, more successful, etc., etc. When on the rare occasion that we actually get what we have coveted, we find that the result is bittersweet.
“Bittersweet” is essentially the story of two college students. Ordinary Mabel Dagmar, a scholarship student with a blue-collar background, and blue-blooded Genevra Winslow, the beautiful, blonde daughter of one of America’s richest families. As fate (or design?) would have it Mabel and Genevra are assigned to be roommates at their prestigious East Coast college. The girls are not really friends, but circumstance leads Mabel to be invited to share Genevra’s summer at “Bittersweet”, a cottage on her wealthy family’s compound of vast acreage in rural Vermont, on the shores of Lake Champlain. A dream come true for Mabel, who covets everything the Winslow family represents.
As the summer unfolds, Mabel feels a sense of belonging that she is afraid to lose. She has been bewitched by the eccentric family, and she falls in love with their customs – and with ‘Ev’s’ brother – and feels for the first time in her life that she could be happy. However, her happiness is laced with uneasiness. Why did Ev’s cousin Jackson commit suicide? Why are there so many locks on the doors of this remote and happy family place? Why does the painting in the dining hall evoke such mystery?
Mabel befriends Ev’s eccentric spinster Aunt Indo who alludes to mysterious documents and dark family secrets. Dying of cancer, Indo leads Mabel to believe that she can inherit Indo’s cottage if she can find proof of these secrets. Through her search, Mabel comes to realize that even the rich have faults. Some more devastating than she could have imagined. Family secrets that prove that their facade masks corruption and debauchery of an unbelievable level. Yes the Winslows are super rich, but how have they managed to stay that way over the generations? How did they manage to escape the Great Depression with their wealth intact? Friendship, secrecy, loyalty and morality are tested and proven to be found wanting. What Mabel had thought was an idyllic world of privilege has it’s own tawdry and, at times appalling core.
She must decide whether she can risk her new-found sense of belonging by divulging the Winslow’s secrets, or, risk being banished and sent back to her old life.
This novel, with it’s vivid and atmospheric description of an idyllic existence, was very entertaining. It’s accompanying mystery provided the reader with page-turning suspense. Miranda Beverly-Whittemore‘s skillful characterization ensured that the reader was invested in the outcome of Mabel’s experience and the ending was masterfully written. Well done!