The novel opens with a confessional letter from an unusual woman to her grown daughter, Recompense, living far from home and expecting her first child. Prudence Winship, determined to shed light upon her early life, spins a remarkable tale of Brooklyn, its society and its economy, during the earliest years of the Republic.
Ten-year old Prudence Winship’s father trains her to carry on the work in his gin distillery. The “dark-minded,” fanciful child has spent her life staring across at Manhattan from the Brooklyn side, and from a young age, she envisions a bridge linking the two. The Winship household also includes a melancholic mother, Roxana, and two other daughters, the mute Pearl and the lively Temperance. Prue is burdened by her secret misdeed: out of jealousy she cursed her unborn sister Pearl while still in the womb, and guilt over this apparently successful act shadows her always. Roxana’s devoted black servant, Johanna, is the only one aware of Prue’s action.
Prue grows up loving and protecting Pearl – too much, at times – and dreading exposure of her crime. Her other sister Tem, independent and overly fond of the product they manufacture, is her companion and competition in the distillery. Together they are the daughters of Winship Daughters Gin. Pearl, divided from them and from the business by her disability, is the watchful one, whose thoughts and feelings are revealed in short, perceptive sentences, quaintly spelled, inscribed on the pages of the small notebook that accompanies her everywhere.
Prue forges a rewarding relationship with Ben Horsfield, who will eventually help her build the bridge of her dreams. But a series of tragedies convinces her that her long-ago curse has turned back upon her, to the detriment of her own life and her sister’s.
Brookland is an absorbing and appealing read, artfully rendered, with a multitude of fascinating detail.