Bittersweet by Miranda-Beverly Whittemore (2 out of 5)
This is a book that was won through Shelf Awareness. Otherwise, likely it wouldn’t have been picked up, because it’s not a book that normally would have sparked interest. The cover is spectacular and promises tales of spooky nepotism and psychological malaise. Unfortunately, not much of either was delivered. The book reminds much of Curtis Sittenfield’s excellent book PREP from years ago. Most think Sittenfield has the market cornered on the type of lifestyle and entitled privilege that Whittemore attempts to paint in the book. Based upon my experience reading both titles, I would have to side with the majority.
Mabel Dogmar, a normal run-of-the-mill girl, is on a scholarship at a prominent college on the coast. In other words, girl from the wayward side of the tracks and way out of her element. Enter the roommate, filthy rich blueblood Genevra Winslow. Despite the numerous cultural and differences, the roomies strike up an unlikely friendship (to this reader, it seemed as if Genevra is “humoring” Mabel’s friendship for a good portion of the story). Mabel’s invited to stay with the family for the summer at Bittersweet, which is Genevra’s cottage on the grounds of the summer home the family has owned for many years. This sounds a bit cliched right off the bat. Or as if it’s the plot of one of those bad Lifetime movies masquerading as a psychological thriller noir. More like a combination of American Gothic meets Beverly Hills 90210, but minus the talented cast (well, that would be minus Tori Spelling too. Sorry, got off course a bit there). Mabel falls for the act being performed for her benefit and starts to feel at home, drop her guard, form forbidden romances, etc. Of course, that’s when the roof caves in (in true tradition of the book and the aura being presented, that means Joe the Chimney Fixer magically appears and fills in the broken brick foundation with gold plated filler). Locks are installed on the doors of the cottage, Mabel is being warned of dire consequences if she doesn’t follow the orders of the dotty aunt with her cryptic messages, and Genevra is not whom or what she claims to be. Sounds like a formula to keep reading? Or sounds like a reason for your brain and interest to get switched off halfway through, because this sounds a little bit too much like something contrived. No, thank you, I respectfully decline. In a time and place where tons of books are littering the colonial motor home from whence thou dwell, I would have to find a better waste of precious reading time. This book was not it.
There isn’t a magical fix-it somewhere in the book. It must be confessed that Mabel, being the foil to some nefarious scheme of the filthy rich family, comes across as blissfully unaware of the major downer known as reality, lurking in the corner waiting to ruin the summer long party. The main character in the piece comes off as clueless and even when the first hint of trouble beckons, she still appears to believe in her heart that it will be little more than nothing, and the yachting and fireworks displays can continue on uninterrupted. Our other main character, Genevra (known as Ev, for most of the book) turns out exactly as you would figure the caricature would turn out. There is no real cohesion to this plot. There is no mystery that overwhelms the reader. There are only yawns. Many, many yawns. I did like the cover, until I realized that this is a place where no one is allowed to enjoy a DiGiorno in peace and quiet. Truthfully, it was a story that echoes Curtis Sittenfield’s excellent novel PREP. There was no feeling of sympathy, empathy, or any sort of emotion that emulates excitement, in the reading of this novel. Bittersweet would not deliver me a second chance, unless it is chocolate.