Book Review: The Bitches of Brooklyn, by Rosemary Harris

Thanks, Thranduil. 

I always say, when asked, that I read “everything,” and I do usually mean it. My tastes are pretty wide ranging, from hard sci-fi to poetry, from literary fiction to true crime. Upon reflection, however, there are some genres that I have tended to avoid: romance (of all flavors, paranormal and otherwise), mysteries, and what is often somewhat-pejoratively referred to as “chick lit.” Not because I think poorly of those genres, but because I know myself and my tastes. And as you can see from previous reviews, when I’ve been fooled into reading romance in the guise of sci-fi or fantasy, I’ve been…less than kind.

With all of that in mind, you might wonder why I decided to read mystery writer Rosemary Harris’s latest, The Bitches of Brooklyn. Three words: title and cover. They were eye-catching and kind of hilarious, and I couldn’t help myself. Additionally, I live in New York City and enjoy reading books that take place here, especially in the boroughs. So I thought, “ah, what the hell,” and clicked to download The Bitches of Brooklyn e-book.

It didn’t take me too long to realize I had made a mistake, but I’m too stubborn to stop reading a book I’ve started.

The gist of The Bitches of Brooklyn is simple: five women who have been friends since grade school meet up once a year at a house on Cape Cod to drink wine, gossip, and catch up. A wrench is thrown into the proceedings when, instead of showing up to their latest gathering, glamorous Abby sends a gourmet food basket and a note reading, “I’ve run off with one of your men.” With that, the plot lurches into gear as the remaining four ladies–Clare, Tina, Rachel, and Jane–try to determine which of their men Abby has stolen away.

Bitches

The first issue arises when it is evident that each woman’s voice sounds exactly the same, despite Tina being the sassy Italian, Jane being the entrepreneur, etc. To be completely honest, I had to go back to look up the names of the protagonists–that is how forgettable they were. Even while I was reading, I often forgot who said what, whose husband/partner was whose, and how they related to one another. With so few characters, establishing distinctive voices for each one should not have proved so difficult, but each woman read almost exactly the same. The male characters were basically non-entities.

In terms of the mystery–who has Abby run off with?–it seemed to be a thread that was dropped and picked up at random. Sometimes the female characters seemed entirely nonchalant, and went pages without talking about or investigating the issue. At other points, they seemed to lose their minds over it. The urgency felt lost whenever the group spent time at an Italian restaurant, or wandering around the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. Honestly, it was pretty weird. Commit to it or don’t, ladies! (Additionally, there was a brief, odd subplot of a woman found dead at a train station, but this was never resolved, so…? Not important, I guess, other than a red herring.) The mystery itself is what kept me reading, but the resolution is flimsy and weak, taking an out that makes the ensuing investigation that much less interesting. 

One issue may be particular to people of my age group and geographical location, but it impacted my understanding and enjoyment of the book, so I thought it was worthwhile to include. The Bitches of Brooklyn seems to present a snapshot of a very different Brooklyn than the one I’m familiar with; an older, less diverse Brooklyn. While I know that there are still some predominantly-Italian communities, it seemed a bit out of touch for the characters to only spend their time in Italian restaurants and Italian bakeries, with mainly Italian secondary characters (and not one person of color in sight). I might attribute this to author Rosemary Harris having grown up in Brooklyn, but the tone-deafness of it struck a dissonant chord for me that was hard to ignore.

Finally, I haven’t mentioned the grammatical and editing errors, as hopefully that is simply a result of my copy being an ARC. There were some issues with unattributed sentences, and as the characters’ voices all sounded alike, it was hard to tell who was speaking. Compared to the other problems I’ve outlined above, though, these were minor.

To be honest, it’s hard for me to imagine who the audience is for The Bitches of Brooklyn. It skews too old for me, but I feel like my mother and her generation would be slightly horrified by the casual throwing around of the word “bitch” and the heavy emphasis on female-male relationships. Maybe the 30-year old market? I would be interested to see the demographics of who ends up purchasing this book.

I received a copy of The Bitches of Brooklyn free for review by publisher Chestnut Hill Brooks through Netgalley. The Bitches of Brooklyn is now available for purchase.

Bookwanderer Rating: One out of five stars
Bookwanderer Tagline: “That was fitting because it was what they’d been dubbed a long time ago when they were teens, the Bitches of Brooklyn. Were they really? Depended on who you asked.”
Other reviews: Novellum, Jersey Girl Book Reviews, The Outside Lane

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