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Cover for Bethlehem


A Novel

Karen Kelly


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Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (7/8/2019)
CD-Audio (7/16/2019)


With the atmospheric storytelling of Kate Morton and Lisa Wingate, Karen Kelly weaves a shattering debut about two intertwined families and the secrets that they buried during the gilded, glory days of Bethlehem, PA.

A young woman arrives at the grand ancestral home of her husband’s family, hoping to fortify her deteriorating marriage. But what she finds is not what she expected: tragedy haunts the hallways, whispering of heartache and a past she never knew existed.

Bethlehem is a multigenerational saga that weaves together the lives of two prominent families during the historic steel boom era of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Inspired by the true titans of the industry, Bethlehem is a mystery, a love story, and a tragedy. It is a story of temptation and regret; a story of secrets and the cost of keeping them; a story of forgiveness. It is the tale of two complex women: the dynamic and beautiful Susannah Parrish Collier and her daughter-in-law, the outsider Joanna Rafferty Collier. Thrown together in the name of family, they will unravel mysteries long hidden and complex that have threatened to tear apart a dynasty.

Praise For Bethlehem: A Novel

“This propulsive novel from Kelly pulls the reader in with a gripping multigenerational tale of two families led by strong women. [An] evocative, startling story.”—Publishers Weekly

“A satisfying read awaits.”—Booklist

Bethlehem has stories to tell, and even those stories carefully hidden generations ago eventually resurface. Mystery, first love, and long-held secrets fold together in this atmospheric tale of a family coming to a long overdue reckoning… and finding a way to rise from the aftermath.” —Lisa Wingate, New York Times bestselling author of Before We Were Yours

“With delicate and insightful prose, Karen Kelly sweeps us into the psyches of two deeply entwined families as their lives—and secrets—unravel. A haunting debut, Bethlehem will pull you in from start to finish, and leave you grappling with the timeless quandary of when to bury the truth, and when to confront it.” —Georgia Hunter, New York Times bestselling author of We Were the Lucky Ones

Bethlehem is an extremely deft first novel about the love that is lost and found when family secrets are kept for generations. Karen Kelly is the real deal.” —Mark Sullivan, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Beneath a Scarlet Sky

“A stirring tale of the strength women conjure and the secrets they cling to when youthful joys fade and heartache takes hold. Set against the backdrop of the Pennsylvania steel industry in the 1920’s and 1960’s, Bethlehem explores how far mothers will go to protect their families, and how far wives can be pressed before they push back. With passion and insight, Kelly has crafted a deeply moving story of empathy and forgiveness.” —Lynda Cohen Loigman, author of the Goodreads Choice Finalist The Two-Family House and The Wartime Sisters

Bethlehem is a slow burn of a novel, starting out with simple tales and quiet details that build to a rich and touching and moving tale. Generations of family secrets come unburied in the course of this novel, in ways that show how large the heart can be, and how healing the truth can be. The prose is vivid, the characters crackle with life, and the story of these two families will capture you. I read the last fifty pages with a continuous lump in my throat.” —Stephen P. Kiernan, author of The Baker’s Secret and The Curiosity

"Kelly is adept at showing the hidden parts of people’s lives and revealing how the pain of the past can ripple through the present...she also shows how brave people can bring healing by refusing to hide their true selves and histories."—

"I could not put down this book, brimming with history, romance, and mystery."—First for Women

"A story of two complex women learning to understand each other and ultimately themselves. Dive into a novel of family dynamics and discover how powerful, lifelong secrets can shape our lives.—Lehigh Valley Style

St. Martin's Press, 9781250201492, 304pp.

Publication Date: July 9, 2019

About the Author

Karen Kelly has a BA in English from Vanderbilt University, and lives in Edina, Minnesota. She is the author of Prospice and Bethlehem.

Conversation Starters from

1. The single most significant theme in the book is illustrated with one sentence: “It’s a wretched thing to feel like an imposter.” Is there a universal truth to that? Most people carry secrets—do those secrets “in some fundamental way” change people, as with Susannah?

2. If so, is that necessarily a bad thing? Is it better to leave history in the past; are some things better left unsaid? Or is there a sort of slow poison in keeping a secret, something that can eat away at a person until the balance is shifted and the harm that it does to the person keeping it outweighs the good of protecting someone else?

3. How do you feel about Susannah’s secret, and the fact that she kept it for so long? Should she have told Wyatt (i.e., does honesty always trump any impetus to withhold the truth, even if the withholding is done with the best intentions?).

4. Helen’s insistence on keeping her daughter’s pregnancy a secret impacted the rest of Susannah’s life. Do you believe that Susannah owed her mother her silence on the matter? Or do you see Helen as meddling and mistaken? Do you think it is typical for a mother to exert such influence over her daughter? Natural? Acceptable? Did Helen ruin her daughter’s life or did she save it?

5. People have been known to give up everything for love. Falling in love with the wrong person can devastate families, friendships, and lives. A second overarching theme of the book is the terrible helplessness of those situations. We see this illustrated most powerfully in the character of Chap, who must risk losing his relationship with a brother whom he loves profoundly. Did you recognize Chap’s untenable situation and the depth of the pain it caused him? Do you think he should have let Susannah go, denied their love, and put his brother first? What might the repercussions of that decision have been?

6. We also see it illustrated in the character of Joanna, who briefly considers leaving everything—her children, her husband, her entire life—for Daniel. How would you compare the relationship of Joanna and Daniel to that of Susannah and Chap? How about that of Joanna and Frank compared to Susannah and Wyatt?

7. Joanna struggles with feelings of loneliness, powerlessness, and identity that fuel her resentment for her husband. In a home occupied by two other strong women, she feels marginalized. Can you relate to Joanna’s frustration, to her gravitation to Daniel in her need to be seen, to be important to someone? Do you think she was justified in her feelings, or do see her as confused, misguided, or even self-centered?

8. How did you feel about Joanna’s friendship with Daniel? Is this a commonly recognizable phenomenon—the convenient cloak of friendship used to sanction a relationship which may, in reality, have a chemistry that isn’t necessarily appropriate?

9. How did you feel about Frank as the book went on? Did you see him as neglectful and deserving of Joanna’s resentment, or did you feel empathy and/or pity for him?

10. Susannah makes a discovery that is described by these excerpts:

11. She floated in Chap’s arms like a feather in a stream, with a strange, transcendental feeling of utter fulfillment, made more bewildering by the fact that she hadn’t realized it had been missing before.

12. Her feelings for Chap were so novel, so powerful, that she couldn’t help but wonder: If not for him, would she ever have known?

13. Do you believe that a person may never meet the love of his or her life and not even know it? Can we be just as happy not knowing that we are missing something?

14. Wyatt’s love for both Susannah and his brother, Chap, is deep and abiding—enough that he can forgive them for loving each other, and go forward without ever revealing that he knew about the relationship. Should Wyatt have told his wife what he knew, relieving her of the guilt? Or can you relate to his fear that the relationship would survive neither the enormousness nor the enormity of the truth; that revealing his knowledge might “eat us alive”?

15. The story begins quietly, constructing a careful history to establish a relationship between the reader and the characters in order to recognize those characters familiarly and to understand the deep relationships that the two families have. Did you find that the measured pace—the deliberate foundation that the author layered into the first chapters—had the effect of providing extra emotional impact for the denouement and the last chapters? How did the foreshadowing impact your response to the story? Did you find it compelling or did you feel it gave too much away?

16. The author originally intended to end the book at Chapter Fifteen, without the epilogue. Did you find the epilogue a necessary explanation for the way the final chapter ended, or could you infer the meaning?