Official Stuff –
Author – Jean Zimmerman
Pages – 416
Publisher – Viking Adult
Jean Zimmerman’s new novel tells of the dramatic events that transpire when an alluring, blazingly smart eighteen-year-old girl named Bronwyn, reputedly raised by wolves in the wilds of Nevada, is adopted in 1875 by the Delegates, an outlandishly wealthy Manhattan couple, and taken back East to be civilized and introduced into high society.
Bronwyn hits the highly mannered world of Edith Wharton era Manhattan like a bomb. A series of suitors, both young and old, find her irresistible, but the willful girl’s illicit lovers begin to turn up murdered.
Zimmerman’s tale is narrated by the Delegate’s son, a Harvard anatomy student. The tormented, self-dramatizing Hugo Delegate speaks from a prison cell where he is prepared to take the fall for his beloved Savage Girl. This narrative—a love story and a mystery with a powerful sense of fable—is his confession.
My Rating – 3 of 5 stars
I received a free copy of this novel from the Penguin First to Read program in exchange for a fair review.
The Delegates are one of the wealthiest (and most eccentric) families in late 1800’s Manhattan. The father, Freddy, and the mother, Anna Marie likes to collect odd things, such as a Chinese emigrant, and a cross-dressing native.
The oldest son, Hugo is fresh out of a stay at the sanitarium and the Delegate parents decided to take him on a cross-country train trip. While on this trip they make a stop in a small mining town in Nevada, where Freddy owns a silver mine. This is where they discover Savage Girl.
Savage Girl is a show in a barn where a beautiful young girl, supposedly raised by wolves and can’t speak, acts like a beast (complete with specially made razor sharp claws) and then gets naked and takes a bath, much to the pleasure of the men in the audience. She is a town favorite, with a packed full barn at every show.
The Delegate family is immediately taken with her. Freddy and Anna Marie have been searching for a “real’ wild child to collect and bring into society; Freddy is desperate to annoy his fellow wealthy friends by proving their nature vs. nurture theory wrong.
They take her, hoping to rehabilitate her and have her come out with all of the Manhattan debutantes. They discover her real name, Bronwyn, and try to teach her and convince her to wear shoes and normal clothes.
She’s smart, that much they can tell. They have high hopes for her. Though she gives them a hard time at first, she catches on fast and soon she is the most popular debutante in the city. Men flock to her and fawn over her. They only problem is, everywhere she goes a man ends up dead and missing his manly bits.
Hugo is torn, it’s clear he is absolutely in love with this girl, though he thinks her capable of murder. Or is it him committing the murders? He isn’t sure. He blacks out and isn’t entirely clear when some things happen. Could he be killing these men out of jealously?
Bronwyn sneaks out at night dressed as a man, she dances with gypsies, and can control a wild cat in the zoo to do tricks for her. She seems to be two people, the Savage Girl and Bronwyn the debutante.
This book was…okay. The first half was so so slow and then it speeds up very fast for the last few chapters. It was way overwritten. While the descriptions were wonderful, I could picture the women in their corsets and bustles and the horses clomping down the street in Manhattan, at times it’s just too much. It easily could have been a hundred pages shorter and told the same story.
The deaths are few and far between, again until the second half of the book where it picks up. Most of the book is a journey inside Hugo’s mind and his thoughts and opinions of Bronwyn, and also the snobby life of the Manhattan elite.
I didn’t like most of the Delegate family; Bronwyn was really just a piece of a collection to them. Hugo was very whiny and what a drama queen! Bronwyn, I liked what we are told about her, but you don’t ever really get to know her because it’s from Hugo’s point of view and he constantly mentions how he knows nothing about her.
Not a bad book overall, just a tad boring.