Tag Archives: island life

Male Family Dysfunction in Maine (Even the Narrator is a Boy): The Miracle on Monhegan Island by Elizabeth Kelly

cover imageThe publisher of The Miracle on Monhegan Island calls it “another rollicking, summertime family saga” from author Elizabeth Kelly, but I think “rollicking” is a slightly misleading description, unless you’d also call the stories of the dark dysfunctional family summers in We Were Liars by E. Lockhart or Maine by Courtney Sullivan “rollicking.”

Although The Miracle on Monhegan Island overflows with humor and is narrated in its entirety by Ned, a purebred Shih Tzu who is wise beyond his years on the subjects of both human nature and dog breeds, the humor is mostly dark. The Monahan family is still recovering from events related to mental illness that broke up the family in the past.

I am a big fan of author Elizabeth Kelly, although you might not know it from my blog. I was so impressed with her two previous novels – Apologize, Apologize! and The Last Summer of the Camperdowns –  that I was afraid my reviews wouldn’t do them justice. But after reading an advance copy of The Miracle on Monhegan Island, which is coming out on May 10th and is written in the same understanding, unsentimental tone – a blend of light and dark, heavy on the dark– as her earlier books, I want to make sure my blog readers don’t miss hearing from me any longer about author Elizabeth Kelly (not to be confused with Canadian romance author Elizabeth Kelly, or Catholic inspirational author Elizabeth Kelly.)

Monhegan Island is a real island in Maine with cliffs overlooking the ocean, miles of walking trails, unspoiled natural vistas, and no cars.

photo of Monhegan Island
Photo from Monhegan.com http://monhegan.com

Before Spark, the prodigal adult son, returns after an absence of many years to the family home, he steals a dog as a gift for his young teenaged son Hally on impulse from the backseat of a car, thus changing Ned’s life completely, as Spark’s return to Monhegan Island also changes the life of his son Hally, who has lived alone with his artist uncle and stern preacher grandfather since the death of his mother when he was little. Pastor Ragnar is either a crackpot or inspired by God, but his faithful following grows exponentially when Hally reports seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary, igniting a firestorm of media attention and obsessed visitors to the isolated island.

Ned muses frequently on how different and more meaningful his life turned out to be from the petted and pampered life he had believed was his lot; his witty observations of the behavior of the members of the human family he now belongs to and the other humans (and dogs) on the island are equally keen and thoughtful.

You don’t have to be either a dog person or a God person to appreciate the dark humor of this story of the fine line between religious fervor and psychosis and the strength of blood lines and family ties. Add this one to your summer reading list, if you don’t mind a few loose ends and unanswered questions to ponder over after you close the book!

The Miracle on Monhegan Island
Kelly, Elizabeth (@ElizabethKelly8)
Norton, May 10, 2016
9781631491795 (hard.)
$25.95

Disclosure: I received an e-ARC of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.

 

Real Lives of Year-Rounders on Nantucket: Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand

cover image of SummerlandYes, I know, Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand came out LAST summer, and I’ve just gotten around to reading it. I’m even later to the Elin Hilderbrand party than that, because this Massachusetts author had already hit the New York Times bestseller list twice (with The Island and Silver Girl) before Summerland, her eleventh novel, and Summerland is the first one I’ve read to see what all the fuss is about.

Now I know. Elin Hilderbrand is the American answer to Penny Vincenzi. We don’t need to resort to reading about drinking tea and wearing wellies with the English middle and upper middle classes anymore! We’ve got our own comfort reads we can sink into right here. With the added bonus that Elin Hilderbrand’s books’ Nantucket settings make her books perfect for reading while sunk into a beach chair with an American summertime drink close at hand. (Think Nantucket Cocktail.)

In Summerland, tragedy hits the island of Nantucket when a rising senior – the beautiful, talented and beloved Penny Alastair – drives a speeding car full of teens over an embankment after an unsanctioned party on the beach the night of high school graduation. Penny is killed instantly and her twin brother, Hobson – a handsome, gifted athlete, and all-around nice guy – is seriously injured. The two other teens in the car – Demeter, who has the almost empty bottle of Jim Beam in her bag and Jake, Penny’s longtime boyfriend – are physically unhurt, but mentally traumatized.

Summerland is about the responses to this tragic accident from different points of view – the teens themselves and their families and friends – as well as the response of the islanders as a whole. Nantucket isn’t just a summertime playground for the rich and famous, the author points out; this story is about real people. Granted, they are mostly all attractive and tanned and successful, but as this story shows, that doesn’t make them immune to tragedy.

Here’s a excerpt taken from near the beginning of the book, where we get the first-person plural point of view of the year-round inhabitants of Nantucket, who take a special hometown pride in the standout talents of Penny and Hobson Alastair, twin children of the widowed Zoe, a beautiful and talented chef with a house on the water.

There was a bittersweet element to June 16, graduation day, and as we walked off the field at the end of the ceremony, some of us said we would never forget this one in particular, either because the weather had been so spectacular or because Patrick Loom’s speech had been so poignant.
It was true that we would always remember graduation that year, but not for these reasons. We would remember graduation that year because it was that night, the night of June 16, that Penelope Alastair was killed.
What? the world cried out in disbelief. The world wanted the Nantucket that resided in its imagination: the one with the icy gin and tonic resting on the porch railing, the sails billowing in the wind, the ripe tomatoes nestled in the back of the farm truck. The world did not want to picture a seventeen-year-old girl dead, but the world needed to know what we knew; Nantucket was a real place.
Where tragic things sometimes happened.

If you are a Penny Vincenzi fan, you should definitely try Elin Hilderbrand’s books (and vice versa). Also, if you like books by Jacquelyn Mitchard, Elizabeth Berg, Anita Shreve, Liane Moriarty, or other writers of “women’s fiction” who tell a good and heartbreaking story including sharp observations of the way people behave during a crisis, moments of humor throughout, difficult problems that get at least partially resolved (or “sorted” if you’re reading Penny Vincenzi), and a hopeful and uplifting ending.

Read a 2012 interview with Elin Hilderbrand at BermudaOnion’s Weblog.

Summerland
Hilderbrand, Elin
Little, Brown, 2012
9780316099837
388 pp.
$26.99 U.S./$29.99 CAN

Disclosure: I borrowed this book from the public library.

Other (more timely) opinions on Summerland (all very good):
Beth Fish Reads
A Bookish Libraria
Under My Apple Tree

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