Book Reviews

Book Review: Bethlehem by Karen Kelly

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Bethlehem by Karen KellyBethlehem by Karen Kelly
Published on July 9, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction, Fiction
Links: Buy on Amazon | Goodreads
Pages: 304
Format: ARC

Source: NetGalley

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.

Kelly’s debut novel makes a terrific splash in weaving together the tale of two complex women, both haunted by the tragedies of the past and the unrelenting nature of love in its most daunting form – uncontrollable.

Uprooting his family to the town of Bethlehem, PA and its lustrous history of the steel industry, Joanna discovers the faults in her marriage run deeper than she anticipated.

It is only under the cruel light of the endless blue skies she begins to see the dark truth of not only her own life but the thunderous echoes of the past. Often left to her own devices due to her husband’s busy work schedule, Joanna finds herself taken with the eccentric caretakers of the home.

She floated in Chap’s arms like a feather in a stream, with a strange, transcendental feeling of utter fulfillment, made more bewildering by the fact that she hadn’t realized it had been missing before.

Her new connections lead her to make a curious connection with her mother-in-law, a woman whose story mirrors Joanna’s in an almost uncanny way.

Bethlehem is a vibrant, soapy, and absorbing debut. It’s romantic without being sappy, mysterious without being dour, and realistic with its descriptive passages of aureate architecture and old-money opulence.

What makes Bethlehem such a startling novel and a departure from the tired and true romantic sentiments is its disavowal of a fated “to be.” There is a sadness to love, the idea that being enraptured by one may blind you to the truth.

Karen Kelly makes an exhilarating debut with this historical fiction novel. Stick with it. The beginning can be daunting due to its many character introductions and alternating usage of the timeline.

Rest assured you will be eased into the complicated family relationships between the Collier and Parrish families. The delicate intricacies of their family relationships form the underlying foundation of this story and beg the question of familial history – if one does not understand the past is it doomed to repeat?

Only when Susannah recognizes the imposter, does she impart a moral to the woman who became so inexplicably linked to her in the past and the present.

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About Karen Kelly

Karen Kelly has a BA in English from Vanderbilt University,
and lives in Edina, Minnesota.

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