Cynthia Ayala ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Jean Zimmerman’s new novel tells of the dramatic events that transpire when the Delegates adopt an alluring, blazingly smart eighteen-year-old girl named Bronwyn, reputedly raised by wolves in the wilds of Nevada, in 1875. The Delegates are an outlandishly wealthy Manhattan couple, and take Bronwyn 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. 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.
Savage Girl, written by Jean Zimmerman, follows the story of Bronwyn, told through a third person perspective of Hugo Delegate, eldest living son of the Delegate family of a very bland and uninspired nature. Published on March 6, 2014 by Viking Adult, the story opens with Hugo, being investigated by an attorney and police officer who are investigating the murders that have followed the Delegate family around since they picked up the girl, Bronwyn, from a side show. They have asked him to retell the story of the girl to them so that they will be able to understand the girl they deem a murderer better.
Now, all of that put together serves as an interesting plot line as readers of both young adult and adult fiction are following this little adventure and following the growth of the character, and who she is, but the narrator himself is a drag. Readers will find his characterization boring, and overall, his character has very little substance. He’s dull, though not necessarily dim witted, but that’s how the writer has presented him and how he comes off in comparison to Bronwyn herself.
Zimmerman includes a lot of superfluous detail to the story. While that detail takes control and grounds the reader in the story, there are parts where Bronwyn is missing completely that has the reader wondering why the police officers are letting him regale them with such superfluous detail. The novel would have worked better had the prologue been excommunicated from the novel itself because it creates this air of mystery that is swept away in the windedness of the story as a whole. Instead, the novel could have started with the first chapter, which provides the opening and the introduction to the savage girl and shows Hugo’s immediate attraction. What Zimmerman also could have done was show some of the chemistry between the characters and show readers how Bronwyn influenced and changed Hugo throughout the novel. Instead, his character goes through very little character growth, making it unfortunate that the story is told from his perspective.
This novel had the potential to be something grand within the historical fiction and mystery genres due to Zimmerman’s ability to make readers see something else and think of all the alternatives. The reader is thrown into thinking one direction and suspecting Hugo for the crimes, as his mental instability is an aspect of his character that is highlighted in the very beginning. Eventually, the reader begins to suspect that maybe Bronwyn is guilty of the crimes. Nevertheless, the long-winded and seemingly superfluous detail make the story fall a little flat. ★★☆☆☆ (C-)