"When We Were Bright and Beautiful" | Reviewed by Pat Sainz.
In Jillian Medott’s novel, “When We Were Bright and Beautiful,” Cassie Quinn is the young adult daughter of a New York family whose wealth puts them in the upper 1%. For them, this means that neither she nor her parents and two siblings have patience for anyone below their status. Thus, 99 % of the population have no real significance for them.
Cassie’s parents want those in their rarified circle to perceive them as the perfect family. When their college-age son, Billy, is accused of rape, it is a bother, but they assume that their standing or money can hide and fix any problems that arise with the law or the accuser.
Efforts to keep Billy, the accused rapist, out of jail require massive planning. The recent "MeToo" movement is a drawback. But Billy is handsome, headed to medical school in pediatrics, a national track star and the boyfriend of the woman who has accused him of rape. Surely, that will work in his favor.
Cassie’s birth parents died before she was six. They lived in the same high-security Manhattan building as their friends, Eleanor and Lawrence Quinn. The Quinns became Cassie’s legal guardians. Cassie always referred to them as mom and dad. She partially escaped the warped living conditions of the Quinns by enrolling in a 6-year graduate course at Yale. Still, she is only an hour away from their magnetic, evil pull.
Much of the story revolves around the Quinn’s efforts to keep Billy out of jail. Cassie plays a vital part since her presence in court is required to hold up the illusion that theirs is a perfect, cohesive family unit. Their story becomes the focus on social media, radio and television news programs. They are prisoners in their fortress of a home thanks to the relentless media coverage.
The real story is that of Cassie, whose story is told in chilling flashbacks. She harbors a secret that has damaged her in ways she is not aware. She has no one in whom to confide until she begins to talk to a detective, much against any advice she has been given. Slowly, the depth and the awfulness of her despair become realized and culminate with the last days of Billy’s trial.
It has been a long time since I have woken up in the middle of the night to continue reading a book fraught with tension and psychological intrigue.
This book provides insight into the way some of the very, very wealthy likely live their lives, oblivious to the concerns and needs of anyone not in their league, including their employees with whom they share daily interaction.
“When We Were Bright and Beautiful” is gripping storytelling at its best.