Official Synopsis from Goodreads: With the writing chops of Ian McEwan and the story-craft of Lisa Wingate, Karen Kelly weaves a shattering debut about two intertwined families and the secrets that they buried during the gilded, glory days of Bethlehem, PA.
A young woman arrives at the grand ancestral home of her husband’s family, hoping to fortify her cracking marriage. But what she finds is not what she expected: tragedy haunts the hallways, whispering of heartache and a past she never knew existed.
Inspired by the true titans of the steel-boom era, Bethlehem is a story of temptation and regret, a story of secrets and the cost of keeping them, a story of forgiveness. It is the story of two complex women—thrown together in the name of family—who, in coming to understand each other, come finally to understand themselves.
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Setting: Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Time bounces between 1962 and 1918-1925.
***I received an eARC copy of Bethlehem from the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, via NetGalley***
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Review: Wow! What a read! I loved this book. Bethlehem by Karen Kelly is a back-and-forth in time read that is set in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and bounces between 1962 and the early 1920s. The 1962 section is told from the point of view of Joanna, and back in the early 20s, we see things primarily from Susannah’s perspective. Susannah is Joanna’s mother-in-law, and so the two time periods have an obvious connection that doesn’t feel forced.
I liked both time periods. The setting is the same, Brynmor, the Parrish family estate, and early on we learn that Susannah Parrish marries Wyatt Collier, the son of the head engineer at Bethlehem Steel, which is owned and operated by the Parrish family. The time period in the early twenties tells the story of how Susannah and Wyatt fell in love, and the 1962 section tells of Joanna, and her struggles living at Brynmor, and trying to fit in and live with her husband’s family.
For at least the first half of the book, not a whole lot of plot happens. I was enjoying the book, but wasn’t sure where it was going. We read about life at Brynmor, and read of Joanna’s struggles to fit in and feel a sense of belonging, and we see a youthful Susannah full of energy and happiness. Then the book starts to shift, and I realized all of the carefully crafted buildup, and I couldn’t put the book down. While it started quietly, it ended with a stunning conclusion that still leaves me a bit shaken.
Bethlehem is a book with a love triangle (or two) that works. Love, family, secrets, grief, and time all play a role. To say more would spoil the unwinding of this beautifully crafted story. This is a book about love – the kind of love you wish that you are lucky enough to find. It’s also a book about secrets and how they can weigh us down. I loved it!
Bottom Line: An excellent read. Would make a great book club selection!