Review of Bradstreet Gate BY Robin kirman
And then this is also the way with pretty girls: rambling on with a sort of abandon that only people automatically exciting could permit themselves. What was there to hide when your skin was tawny smooth and your thoughts free of envy?
First things first: Bradstreet Gate is not The Secret History. I know, I know: they sound the same. Both conjure the ivy-clad brick of a classic northeastern university and involve a magnetic professor, a coterie of secret-keeping undergrads, and, of course, murder.
But you know what?
I also have two friends who are crazy about their rescue dogs and left their NYC corporate jobs to move upstate to become one-woman-show jewelry designers. And you know what else? They aren’t really all that much alike. Just because two things sound the same on paper doesn’t mean they are. So, now that that’s out of the way, on to Bradstreet Gate.
We open on Georgia, a frenzied young mom, exhausted not only from typical new-parenting challenges but also by her husband’s cancer. He’s got a 50/50 chance of making it. Nothing looks charmed about her life. Jump back ten years to the catalyst of the story, and she’s dazzling, with a beauty noted far and wide across Harvard’s campus. We’re introduced to her friends Charlie and Alice and Professor Storrow—and, second-hand, to the murdered Julie Patel.
Told over the span of ten years, we see these characters at different times in their lives; some characters come alive, but others — perhaps those who you’d expect to be the heart of the book — remain ciphers. Georgia is reactive, passive, a person things happen to, rather than a person who takes action. And who is Julie Patel? Kirman’s decision to show us so little of her makes it hard for the reader to care that she’s been killed. Despite some lovely prose and beautiful writing, I never quite got inside characters’ heads. Who are they? What do they really want? Why? Who knows.
The book lacks a certain sense of urgency. Bradstreet Gate doesn’t particularly read like a mystery—unlike other mysteries (of which I read quite a few), I wasn’t eager to spot clues or form hypotheses; I wasn’t trying to solve anything but instead was merely along for the ride. This is inherently neither good nor bad, of course, but I suspect Bradstreet Gate may not scratch the traditional mystery itch. Part of the problem—a big part—is that the book’s conclusion is so unsatisfying. I’m not advocating that everything be tied up in a neat bow, but Bradstreet Gate leaves all together too many threads dangling.
Much of what Kirman does is effective, including how she highlights the schisms between how the characters see themselves and how they are seen by others. There are moments of beauty, but in the end, I wanted to like Bradstreet Gate more than I did.
Disclaimer: I received a gratis copy of Bradstreet Gate from Blogging for Books in exchange for this honest review.