Mabel Dagmar is on scholarship at an East Coast college and feels very ordinary in the shadow of her rich, beautiful roommate Genevra Winslow. When Ev invites Mabel to spend the summer at her cottage, named Bittersweet, Mabel can’t believe her luck. But Mabel soon realizes that Ev’s family holds dark secrets and maintains tenuous relationships with one another. The deeper Mabel plunges into the world of the rich, the worse it looks.
There are plenty of hooks in Miranda Beverly-Whittemore’s novel about an outsider gaining access to a wealthy family. Readers who want a juicy insider-look at how the 1% live will find plenty of that here. Readers looking for a twisty and completely improbable mystery will also find that here. There’s a touch of the gothic here, as well as more than a little bit of an homage to books like The Great Gatsby. Beverly-Whittemore’s novel is certainly very deliberate in how it approaches the characters and plot within its pages. The problem is that it’s sometimes a bitter pill to swallow.
Although Beverly-Whittemore makes an effort to provide a cast of characters that are richly drawn and stereotype-busting in their behaviors, she only partially succeeds. Ev comes off as a beautiful rich girl whose mercurial emotions and impetuous decisions make her hard to like (not a prerequisite in fiction, but it would certainly help to see what in the ever-loving-hell Mabel finds so fascinating about her). Mabel herself is flat, boring, and weirdly self-righteous. Again, this feels intentional, but it doesn’t make for a wholly engrossing read.
It’s very possible this book just wasn’t right for me as a reader. I found it unevenly paced and full of characters who were cartoonish at best and so hilariously selfishly motivated it was hardly a surprise when the novel’s mystery twists were revealed. It veers off into the totally bizarre near the end, but it does make for a good beach read, especially for readers who don’t mind hating every single person on the page.
Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore. Crown: 2014. Library copy.