Jamie Brenner’s Gilt
by Lee Roscoe
Paradisiacal Provincetown’s sea-burnished glitter meets glam Manhattan to make Jamie Brenner’s Gilt a sweet, wish-fulfillment read during these tarnished times. It’s this combination of city and beach, urban and rural, which Brenner says, makes her novels unique.
In the book, Gemma, a young master of metal and charms, wants to bring the Pavlins, her famous New York family of century-old jewelers, into a new era, but that family has been cleaved apart by a cursed gemstone. However, Gemma and her estranged aunts, Celeste, (who runs an antique store in Provincetown and is a led by her gay astrologer friend Maud, to self-discovery), and ambitious, pragmatic, Elodie, (who runs the Pavlin business), may ultimately reunite as facets of an entire love. They meet in Provincetown and their lives intertwine with a warm Portuguese fishing family.
Told in the traditional past tense, refreshingly devoid of vomiting, smoking, and too-graphic sex, and with authentic characters you will long remember, the novel keeps you wondering if the women’s romances, ambitions, and talents will have the happy endings we all want.
The author, like Gemma, loves vintage jewelry, sporting a shimmering emerald-cut citrine on one hand, an amethyst embedded in filagree on another, and a necklace with a charm made from a Manhattan subway token by Lisa Salzer, whose reused pieces from the Plaza Hotel prompted some of the jewelry ideas in Gilt. “We don’t need to take gems from the ground anymore; we can repurpose things,” Brenner says, commenting that once, diamonds given by a man to a woman in a marriage proposal were everything; now women can treat themselves to jewelry for their own rites of passage.
Gilt is the third Brenner book set in Provincetown where she hopes to eventually settle. “My husband and I originally came here so I could create a setting for Forever Summer.” (It became a bestseller). “As soon as I stepped out of the car, I felt a sense of belonging. Provincetown’s so vivid it’s like trying to catch lightning in a bottle. People ask me if it’s the way I portray it in my books; no, it’s better.” Writing Gilt over months in town during Covid, she includes many lived details in the book, from delicious food to a dolphin rescue she witnessed while taking a writing break.
Her father turned her onto reading, which she did, voraciously. Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz, Sidney Sheldon, rather than the classics, inspired her with their gift for storytelling. But Brenner didn’t start writing herself until her 40s, “after I had lived a bunch of lives, been a bunch of different people. I love women in their 70s and 80s; those women have lived even more versions of themselves.” Her ability to identify with her creations’ selves was also influenced by a writer’s guide which advised “you have to be able to be male and female, gay and straight, black and white.”
Brenner has two daughters and is stepmother to her husband’s two children, but Gilt is not based on specific friends or family. It is based more on composites, (though Brenner confesses, that in her other books, she also writes “the sisters, mother, and grandmother I wish I had. I was close with my grandmother, but she’s been gone for 26 years. There’s a bit of her in any grandmotherly figure I write.”) Elodie is based on successful women Brenner researched. Celeste is crafted from the idea of a person who reinvents herself by moving to Provincetown, transformed by the environment to dare to be different. Gemma shows what it’s like to be a young woman navigating what love and success mean.
As with her six other books, Gilt’s story is of family and secrets. “It’s about what’s important in life, and what is the obstacle keeping us from that, whether it’s an emotional obstacle for a person or an event or a loss. My books are all about a time when that is dealt with. And sometimes it’s a person who facilitates that change, sometimes a place…but it’s always a reckoning with what has not been dealt with.”
Living in Manhattan for 25 years, Brenner reveled in its romance, though the rose-colored glasses eventually came off. Experiencing “culture shock” while working for Vogue.com (the fashion world is glimpsed in Gilt), but savoring her stints at HarperCollins Publishers and Barnes&Noble.com, Brenner knew “a certain echelon of lifestyle.” For one thing, she grew up in Philadelphia’s old money Main Line area, which is still her homebase. She says there’s a lot of sadness with wealth, which people don’t see. Gilt is “based on something I grapple with, the cliché that all that glitters is not gold; the value we place on material things versus what truly brings happiness in life as human beings going through the world.”
Jamie Brenner’s book launch event for Gilt will be held on Saturday, June 18, 6 p.m. at East End Books Ptown, 389 Commercial St. Brenner will be signing books at the event and there is also a virtual component for those who cannot attend in person. For more information call 508.413.3225 or visit eastendbooksptown.com.