Published by Crown on May 13, 2014
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.
After finishing Bittersweet, I’m wondering if I was supposed to love the MC, Mabel, or to hate her. I suspect we’re supposed to regard her as plucky and resourceful, but she’s really quite awful. When we meet her, she’s in the midst of what looks like a Single White Female type of obsession with (or possibly a crush on) her beautiful roommate, Ev Winslow. I thought that this had the potential to be fun, but that angle is quickly discarded for a ho-hum murder mystery involving Ev’s family.
But first, we need to get Mabel to Ev’s family’s summer compound, known as Winloch. It seems that Ev has only the most minimal amount of tolerance for Mabel, so I was as shocked as Mabel was when Ev invited Mabel to visit her family for the summer. Mabel leaps at the opportunity – anything to be close to Ev and to win her affection. When the girls arrive at Winloch, Mabel is surprised to see it consists of somewhat shabby houses. Aren’t these people supposed to be rich??? Ev then tells Mabel that she needs help cleaning up one of the houses so that her mother and father would transfer ownership to her. No, it didn’t make much sense when I was reading it, either.
Quite suddenly, unbelievably, and without provocation, Mabel transforms from Ev’s lapdog into an overbearing, scheming villain. With a tiny bit of coaxing from one of the Winslows, Mabel begins to spy on all of the family members. She’s instructed to “take them all down,” and her reward will be one of the Winslow’s houses. She inserts herself into the middle of the family drama and pries into their financial affairs. She spies on them while they’re having sex. She feels perfectly entitled to ownership of a house that has been in the family for generations. If that’s not enough, here’s a few more of Mabel’s not-so-shining moments:
– When someone reveals a pregnancy to Mabel, Mabel’s first thought is, “How is this going to disturb MY life?”
– She bursts into tears at a restaurant because she’s under-dressed.
– She’s upset at the gift of a friendship bracelet from a younger girl, because rich people are supposed to give extravagant gifts.
– She feigns sympathy with a mother bereaved over the loss of her son in order to pump the woman for Winslow family secrets.
– She’s informed that a family member to whom she’s grown close is dying of brain cancer, but moments later, Mabel is laughing and continuing on her quest to take down the Winslows.
– She resents a dog for not properly thanking her after she rescued it.
The Winslows aren’t any better than Mabel, but at least their wickedness is (unintentionally) cartoonish. What’s the point of Bittersweet? That rich people are evil, twisted, and sick? Even the few “good” ones in this family are characterized mostly by their cluelessness and their total lack of regard for their family members.
Bittersweet would have worked better as a telenovela. Unfortunately, it fails as a high-falutin’ novel.
Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.