Elin Hilderbrand is known as “The Queen of Summer,” her books are marketed as the ultimate beach reads and escape books — even if you are only commuting on the train and are no where near the beach. This is the first book of hers that I’ve read. I actually bought it for my mum’s birthday last year.
This is a fast and lively read. Spoilers follow.
You follow several major characters over the course of a wedding weekend on the Island of Nantucket but tangents out to their lives before and the run up to all of this. The author fills you in on prequels and other characters as well. There are thoughts or “outtakes” from the author from the characters, usually the minor characters too to fill in on other details.
The Carmichael Clan are the bride’s family. They are hosting the wedding at their summer house on Nantucket. The tragic part is the beloved Beth, their mother/matriarch died of ovarian cancer. Before she died Beth left her younger daughter or bonus baby Jenna, much younger than her siblings a notebook or a play by play book of how to plan her wedding. Parts of Beth’s/mom’s advice is sprinkled throughout the novel. Jenna follows it almost to the letter only ignoring advice about her rehearsal dinner dress. The whole obsession over the notebook — angers Pauline — the woman Doug Carmichael (Father of the clan aka Doug) married a few years into widowhood.
The first main story line — the chief action doesn’t really center on the bride Jenna but her older sister Margot who is a harried, professional placement specialist/job headhunter struggling trying to balance a demanding career, care for three/3 demanding children traumatized by divorce and somehow keep her sanity. She has been having a secret affair with her father (Doug)’s long time partner Edge — who is thrice divorced. It’s one of those can’t help it over the moon/I know I should not be doing this/especially after he plies her with romance only to hit her up with a favor to get his nephew placed in a job.
Margot is reeling a bit that her ex is getting re-married to someone he never mentioned, is ongoing/dealing with the day to day wrangling of her children, her siblings and every wedding related crisis before her phone gets dunked cutting her off. On the ferry, she also runs into the guy she threw under the bus for Edge’s nephew. Margot helps Jenna plan all of this tentatively before warning her about love not lasting in the fact she is divorced — sort of amicably it seems she is more annoyed that her ex burned through his trust fund and when they lived together he let her be the breadwinner. And also that their Father/Doug is a major divorce attorney i.e. divorce is paying for this wedding — ironic — no?
Yet despite all her disappointments and misgivings Margot is truly happy for her younger sister Jenna finding a soulmate in Stuart, and she Margot, is honestly trying to manage and triage all the wedding-related crisis and hitting a lot of frustration and walls as she goes — including perhaps a romance with the guy from the ferry (inevitable).
The second main story line — Doug — the father — is very successful divorce lawyer, who was devoted to his wife Beth and still loves her with his only apparent vice being golf and the occasional beer. But a few years into grieving when loneliness really hit engulfment, he started a romance with a client Pauline and eventually married her. Going in and through this book we see this was not a good decision on his part on many levels regarding compatibility but it was not malicious and he is wrestling with what to do now that he regrets that he made a bad choice — and Pauline’s acting out is both realistic and sad in many ways because in the end she is the one that demands to end their marriage — which is a huge relief to him. A marriage that she wanted to be like Doug’s previous marriage, a very wonderful and a true friendship — that was never going to be, etc.
The third main story line — Ann the mother in law to be/mother of the groom. Is a state senator from North Carolina. Not really happy about being saddled to the background which all mother of the grooms are and she is being a good sport and hosting a farewell Sunday Brunch complete with grits, barbecue, and mint juleps, etc., to add a little Southern hospitality style to all the Yankee bridal planning.
Ann creates her own drama in inviting her husband Jim’s former wife Helen. Here’s where it gets tricky. Ann and Jim were married and happy with little children. They joined a suburban wine tasting club where they met Helen who had marriage problems and made a play for Jim. And Jim went for it, had a mid-life crisis affair, moved out married Helen and had a son Chance with her and moved away.
Ann worked through the political crisis and shuttled her other sons back and forth duly for visitation, before her husband realized he flipped/flopped over an unstable lady (Helen) and begged forgiveness, and because Ann never stopped loving him she took him back. Ann though seems bent in getting some vindication from Helen — some sort of envy, acknowledgment or vindication and because Stuart had Chance his half brother as a groomsman she invites Helen to the wedding — which is just a bad call. Suffice to say more drama ensues, accelerates, and then unravels. To note, I felt kind of bad for this woman of power driven almost to insanity because she cannot let go. Yes this woman Helen took away her husband and divided her family — but she got her husband and her family back when other women never do and she doesn’t seem to appreciate this or be able to rise above it and instead just creates more drama — for everyone including the bride and groom.
The whole thing moves very quickly and wraps breezily. There are also a couple of side plots which I’m not going to detail. The author does include gay/male couple the best man and his boyfriend — the boyfriend being black/African American and notes, he is only one of three/3 total people of color at the wedding, the other a bandleader and a server — the only diversity at this wedding and in the overall narrative of rich WASPS.
So here is where I’m going to note — this book is about high end people — people with money — who buy high end clothes, belong to country clubs and yacht clubs, and go to certain colleges and eat at certain restaurants that would probably be my entire paycheck.
And yes people with money have people with money problems — and to note money does not always solve everything even in fiction, but it does help. It is superficial and escapist to some — and also perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, etc.
The description of Nantucket and it’s beaches, restaurants, and sites are lovely and presume spot on, as I’ve never been. The author skillfully shows a degree of social class/standard of living that is often dreamt about and unattainable for many people.
Now my venting about social class and cultural shaming. The idea of people being nouveau riche here or working class isn’t celebrated. Pauline is ethnic re: Italian last name Tonelli — her daughter Rhonda talks about a gym rat boyfriend and loving the TV Show: Jersey Shore. (Perhaps it just hits me because I’m part Italian but it’s the “da greaser” stereotype. Pauline and Rhonda with their Italian American stereotypes don’t line up with Janeite/Jane Austen reading gals like me.) In this story, Pauline with her attempts at a St. John’s suit does not fit in — she is down market and dismissed.
Even the paralegal “Rosalie” is ethnic — what no WASP paralegals to hook up with or is Edge, the law partner slumming. Yes I felt like that was insinuated. And all of this — is completely unnecessary — I’m sure WASPS cheat on other WASPS with WASPS and or a range of ethnicities, and marry incompatible WASPS too and or some WASPs try to social climb — no need for ethnic/social class/ethnic stereotyping or shaming for WASPS or anyone else. That kind of really bugged and disappointed me & left a sour note for me.