Author Robin Kirman’s got the credentials for an auspicious debut – BA in Philosophy from Yale followed by an MFA in fiction from Columbia – and sure enough, Bradstreet Gate is an inventive and well-executed first novel. However, I found the ending disappointing.
The book follows several characters from 1997 to present day. They meet at Harvard – Georgia the beautiful, Alice the odd, Charlie the good-hearted, and Rufus Storrow, the professor. Each is more complicated than first they seem, and the inter-relationships drive the plot through graduation and beyond. At the heart of the story is a mystery. Did Professor Storrow, who is a West Point graduate with a shady military past, murder Julie Patel, the student whose accusations against him threatened to derail his academic career?
Alas, we never learn the truth. Not for sure.
Kirman does a wonderful job of revealing each character’s journey as they intersect through the years, leading up to an anniversary memorial at Harvard for Julie Patel. Each plot thread is well-presented and keeps the reader turning pages. Georgia had an affair with Storrow while at school and had not believed him guilty of the crime, but had declined to lie and give him an alibi. And as she realized at the time, there was not enough evidence to arrest him, but he would always be suspected.
And, indeed, Storrow suffers. As do they all, to some degree or other. Georgia matures, finds love, becomes pregnant and then endures her husband’s tragic death. Alice takes advantage of her inside knowledge at Harvard to advance her career as a journalist, climbs high but then falls far due to a single impulsive act for which she pays for many years, literally. Charlie’s broken heart spurs him to achieve success in the business world, but through everything, he retains an abiding affection for them all. And Storrow’s arrival shows him to have become a shady character, hanging on the fringes of better men for any opportunistic gain, embezzling from his company and abandoning a family in India.
But here is the question: is this a story where a bad man in the making becomes the man he deserves to be? Or is this a story where a man becomes what circumstance makes of him?
The lack of clarity on this question would be more compelling if Kirman had presented, at any time throughout the book, any alternative scenario for Julie Patel’s death other than Storrow’s guilt. With none given, the reader can only take the easy way out and assume it.
Some reviews draw parallels between Bradstreet Gate and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, and I can definitely see it. In my opinion, a comparison between the two is much to Ms. Tartt’s benefit.