Bethlehem by Karen Kelly
My rating: 3.25 of 5 stars
Bethlehem, the debut novel by Karen Kelly, is an ambitious, multigenerational novel set in the glory days of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, site of Bethlehem Steel Corporation. At one time the BSC was the second largest steel producer in America and one of the great innovators in beam structures used to advance the building of skyscrapers. They were also major producers of ordinance used in WWI and WWII. The novel, which cuts back and forth between 1918-25 (Susannah's early years) and 1962 (Joanna's story intersecting with Susannah's), tells the story of family secrets, deceptions, and illicit love during the Great War period to the lead up of the Great Depression. While the novel presents two interesting periods of in American history, I found it oddly paced (the first half is quite slow) and wanted more from the story, particularly more from Joanna's character. (I felt it was clear that Susannah was Kelly's favorite child?) I would have enjoyed a family tree, at least at the end, to help track family connections, as there are quite a few characters, a number with nicknames.
While some aspects of the plot are haunting in terms of the choices we make and live with, in recent years I've sadly been spoiled by reading very polished historical fiction novels by writers like Martha Hall Kelly, Kate Quinn, and Susan Meissner and Kelly's writing suffers in comparison. Nevertheless, Kelly shows great promise and in tighter editorial hands, I'm sure she will continue to grow as a writer. I'll definitely pick up her next novel.
"The fact that some skin doesn't show scars does not mean there haven't been wounds." - Joanna Collier.
I received a Digital Review Copy from St. Martin's Press in exchange for an honest review.
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