Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Bradstreet Gate.
There's much to enjoy in Kirman’s stylish melodrama, from the sharp commentary
on the air of entitlement of those who study in salubrious colleges (and those who aspire to it) to the dead-on skewering of the mid-1990s era of self-involvement. All is brought to life by Kirman’s beautiful storytelling skills in which Charlie Flournoy, Alice Kovacs, and Georgia Calvin become three students lucky enough to study at Harvard University. What starts out as a battle between the seductress and the naïf soon becomes a battle between the betrayed and the betrayer as the three become involved with newly appointed lecturer Rufus Storrow, who has been blamed for the violent death of Indian student Julie Patel. Rufus is the perfect a target, the accusation sullying his reputation and forever damaging his future prospects at the college.
Shadowy and haunting, Kirman unleashes a familiar story as one sinister deed spirals out of control and leads further down a dark hole of despair. The opening chapters begin with the ten-year anniversary of Julie’s death and Georgia’s recollections of the event. She’s being interviewed by Joe Lombardi, the officer who initially headed up the Patel investigation. The case
was mishandled, mainly because the politicians pushed the department to name a suspect quickly, causing everyone involved to play their eager part in persecuting Rufus Storrow: “He was too perfect a target, too well dressed and too well spoken with a high Virginia drawl and fair delicate good looks.”
While the authorities at Harvard argue over Storrow’s fate and the students’
part in the drama, Rufus does himself no favors in the first critical months of the investigation.
At first he denies any involvement then pours out irregularities, covering up half-lies, generally making his efforts to remain cool-headed look heartless. Georgia doesn’t help, doing her best part to assist in dishonoring Storrow’s reputation. The memorial to mourn the murdered girl unfolds, yet the accompanying ceremony provides little comfort to her suffering family. Meanwhile, the notion that Julie Patel was denied justice is perpetrated by Nat Krauss, an interfering journalist who exposes Georgia’s affair with Storrow, first to Charlie and then to the pages of the college newspaper,
The Crimson, in which Alice does her own part to muddy the waters of blame.
Georgia’s guilty musings and memories of that time occupy her for years after Julie’s death, even when she travels to Mumbai and into the orbit of a very different Storrow. Charlie, meanwhile, was once enamored of the young housemaster and over the years has been driven to pursue a career in business, becoming the type of man whose resume bears a significant resemblance to the man he once admired. There’s also Alice, who perhaps harbors some secret knowledge about Julie’s death (and Storrow’s involvement). However, Alice’s journey from hopeful student to mentally unbalanced adult means that she will never be able to rise above her own bitter heartbreaks.
Kirman is a gorgeous storyteller, her genius lying in the way she manipulates Charlie, Georgia, and Alice’s circumstances throughout their lives as well as their memories of Storrow and his involvement in the Patel case, a case that just refuses to go away. Storrow himself strafes through their lives like a Machiavellian force,
surfacing again and again like a crazed vampire. Ten years after Julie’s death he remains in the news, depicted as a drifting victim or a monster on the loose, trying frantically to escape recognition.
The reader is caught between real compassion for Charlie, Georgia and Alice and a real dislike for Storrow, only to be shocked (and a little deflated) by revelations at the end of the novel. Kirman doesn’t shy away from the harshness of daily existence: Charlie‘s blue-collar father’s refusal to consider such people--however educated or accomplished--nobler than himself; Alice‘s long-suffering immigrant mother, who refuses to support her even as her daughter spirals into maelstrom of self-inflicted violence; Georgia’s legacy of a famous father whose provocative photographs of her as a teenager created both sensation and controversy; and Julie’s Indian mother, who still holds a flame for her prized daughter, a young woman utterly unsuited to the horror that befell her.
Swirling around their universe is enigmatic Rufus Storrow, who may or may not have committed murder. Storrow remains an enigma, refusing to expose the dark secrets that propelled his stark fall from grace. Even after all of his deceits, humiliations, and burdens are each carefully documented by Charlie, we come to understand very little of this man who haunts the pathways alongside Bradstreet Gate. All that remains is a thin veneer, a comfort to the damaged Patel family still reeling like damaged, tortured souls from an unsolved crime.