Tag Archives: love story

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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What Survives from a Flooded Town: Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara

cover image of Cascade (Penguin edition)In Cascade, a memorable first novel by short story writer Maryanne O’Hara, a small town faces the loss of itself and its history for the sake of urban progress and the promise of cash from the state government, which wants to flood this part of western Massachusetts to make the Quabbin Reservoir to improve the supply of drinking water to Boston.

If the state decides on Cascade rather than the smaller town of Whistling Falls, all of Cascade’s homes and buildings need to be demolished or moved – including the Shakespearean theatre that had belonged to Desdemona (Dez) Hart’s father, which had seen famous actors and actresses stride its stage in 25 seasons of brilliant summer productions. Now it’s 1935 and the theatre has gone dark. The country is struggling out of the Great Depression, and her father – the founder and guiding light of the theatre – died suddenly, months before.

Daily, the newspapers publish photographs of men in bread lines and entire families fleeing storms in the Dust Bowl, so Dez knows she should count herself lucky to be married to Asa Spaulding, with his still-thriving drugstore business and nice house in Cascade. But she misses her art classes and her life in Boston – given up in haste after the stock market crash and her father’s near-bankruptcy – and has to watch her friend Abby head off without her to paint and live a cosmopolitan life in New York City, the life they had planned to start out on together. Dez’s own passion for painting hasn’t left her, but the only person in Cascade who she can talk to about it is Jacob, an artist (an art instructor!) who travels down to Cascade from New York on Thursdays to wind up his deceased father’s business there. Gossip begins soon enough about Jacob’s visits to Dez during the day, even though at first it’s just for long conversations about painting and painters.

The blurb from People on the cover of the softcover edition sums the book up nicely:

Gorgeously written and involving, Cascade explores the age-old conflict between a woman’s perceived duty and her deepest desires.

Dez’s story is set in the 1930s but has a contemporary feel to it, as Dez wavers in indecision over the “right” thing to do – about her marriage, her art, her loyalty to her dead father, and her secret hope that the flooding of Cascade might set her free.

If you liked The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro, especially for its main character’s moral dilemma and its insights into the meaning and value of works of art, you should also like Cascade. Both books are 2013 Massachusetts Must Reads.

Cascade
O’Hara, Maryanne
Penguin
April 30, 2013
9780143123514, soft.
368 pp.
$16.00 US, $17.00 CAN

Viking
August 12, 2012
9780670026029, hard.
$26.95 US

Disclosure: I received a free, signed copy of the softcover edition of this book at a library conference.

Other opinions of this book (all very good to excellent):
Bibliophile by the Sea
The Bluestocking Society
A Bookish Libraria
The Picky Girl
The Relentless Reader
Unabridged Chick
The Worm Hole

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Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel

Cover image of Goodbye for NowIn Laurie Frankel‘s second novel, Goodbye for Now, there are many moments that will bring a tear to your eye, but not a single sappy sentence. I loved it. When an advanced reading copy came in the mail last week, I bumped it to the top of the TBR pile and read it in two days. To shower some of my highest praise on this book: Goodbye for Now reminded me of Laurie Colwin.

Although I haven’t read Laurie Colwin’s Happy All the Time;  Shine on, Bright and Dangerous Object; Family Happiness; and Goodbye Without Leaving in years, they remain among my favorite novels of all time. Although they were about relatively privileged New Yorkers in their late twenties and early thirties, the novels made the domestic lives of these smart, witty people, who were also down-to-earth and kind to each other, so irresistibly appealing that readers were drawn in and forgave them any faults, wanting only the best for them all. Throw in computer technology, social media, and improved  forms of electronic communication and you’ve extended the boundaries for a contemporary comedy of manners with family, friends, colleagues, and beyond. In Goodbye for Now, the author’s tweaking of the geek-boy-meets-geek-girl theme and the characters’ philosophical musings on digital afterlives (when we die, our Facebook pages remain) add to the humor and the pathos of the characters’ everyday lives.

The main characters in Goodbye for Now live in Seattle, not New York, but Sam Elling and Meredith Maxwell seem as made for one other as Laurie Colwin’s couples did (Sam’s new online dating algorithm doesn’t go wrong.) Here’s Sam, a lonely software engineer, meeting Meredith for the first time, having tried his newly developed software on himself:

The next step for Sam, of course, was to try it himself. He wanted to know if it worked. He wanted to prove that it worked. But mostly, he wanted it to work. He wanted it to search the world and point, to reach down like the finger of God and say, “Her.” How good was this algorithm? First time out, it set Sam up with Meredith Maxwell. She worked next door. In the marketing department. Of Sam’s own company. For their first date, they met for lunch in the cafeteria at work. She was leaning against the doorframe grinning at him when he got off the elevator, grinning helplessly himself.
“Meredith Maxwell,” she said, shaking Sam’s hand. “My friends mostly call me Max.”
“Not Merde?” Sam asked, incredulous, appalled with himself, even as he was doing so. Who made a joke like that–pretentious, scatological, and French–as a first impression? Sam was awkward and off-putting and a little gross.
Incredibly, Meredith Maxwell laughed. She thought it was funny. She thought Sam was funny. But it wasn’t a miracle. It was computer science.

Both in their early thirties and unattached, Sam and Meredith (forever known to Sam as “Merde”) fall in love so easily and undramatically that when events conspire to have them moving in together, it makes perfect sense to start the living-happily-ever-after part of their lives right away, now that the wonders of computer technology and Sam’s programming genius have brought them together. It’s best not to know much more of the plot in advance because serendipity and bolts from the blue play a major role in how the story goes, so I won’t say much more here, except that the theme of loss runs through the novel starting with the sudden death of Sam’s mother when Sam was only thirteen months old, leaving Sam’s father (also a software engineer) to miss her for many years and Sam with a hole in his life where his mother should have been and no memories of his own stored up.

I hope Goodbye for Now won’t be marketed as a romantic story for women, because there’s so much more here…about grieving, marriage, friendship, artificial intelligence, and (of course, as in all the best novels) the motives of the human heart. Male readers of male authors who write humorous yet sharply observed novels and sometimes touching novels like Jonathan Tropper, Nick Hornby, and Tom Perrotta, should also like Goodbye for Now. (Look! There are model airplanes on the cover, not shoes or a thin, pale white woman in a dress.) If you are a reader of either sex who likes novels by Meg Wolitzer (Surrender, Dorothy), or Carolyn Parkhurst (The Dogs of Babel), or Laurie Colwin, you should also pick up Goodbye for Now as soon as it comes out.

Goodbye for Now
Frankel, Laurie
Doubleday
Aug. 7, 2012
978-0-385-53618-9
288 pp., $25.95 U.S./$30.oo CAN

Disclosure: I received an advance reading copy of Goodbye for Now from Doubleday through LibraryThing‘s Early Reviewer program.
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