REVIEW of Bethlehem by Karen Kelly

bethlehemA working-class girl married into an elite industrial family, Joanna Collier must bring her young children to live at her husband’s family home in the steel-town of Bethlehem. Lonely and losing herself into a listless existence, Joanna struggles to connect with her children’s grandmother, Susannah, and great-grandmother, Helen. Meanwhile, having taken over his father’s company, Frank’s work pulls him away more and more, leaving little time for the two to mend the cracks that threaten to tear their marriage apart.

Forty years earlier, we see the story of Frank’s mother, Susannah. Raised as the privilege daughter of a steel titan, Susannah Parrish was always destined to wed Wyatt Collier, until the autumn she discovered that his older brother was in fact “the one.” The pain of a secret romance and the untold stories swirling around Susannah’s life come to the surface to explain the quiet, guarded woman who raised Frank Collier and who will come to be a friend to Frank’s wife Joanna.

This was a beautifully rendered dual narrative novel that shows both the flapper era of the 1920s and the nearer era of the 1960s. In a story with no “bad guys,” the tension created by circumstance was palpable and propelled me with barely a break from cover to cover. When stories deal with infidelity or incipient infidelity, there is always the question of how duty and desire will be dealt with. This story handles the concepts with the appropriate gravity and perspective. The terrible weight of secrets and deception is skillfully portrayed, and the final epilogue nearly made me shed a tear. Bethlehem surprised me by being one of my favorite books of the year so far. Recommended.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

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