Summer, sand, salt water does anyone do it better than Elin Hilderbrand? In her latest effort, The Island, the author again embraces that idealistic all-American scene with a story that manages to be both easy and breezy, yet heartbreaking and profound. It’s a tall order for a writer whose books all which have taken place in the WASP-y enclave of Nantucket and its surrounding islands bring to life the blonde, the beautiful, and the privileged.
The Island, whose setting is the remote private isle of Tuckernuck, is primarily a story of four women Birdie Cousins, her daughters Chess and Tate, and Birdie’s sister, India. The women, of course, are all harboring dark secrets and rediscovering long-lost desires, and they agree to reunite at the family’s rustic compound after an absence of more than a dozen years. Over the course of a month and plenty bottles of Sancerre the women fight and reconnect, love and lose love. The impetus for the gathering is Chess, who’s recovering from both a broken engagement and the subsequent accidental death of her ex-fiance, but the Cousins gals all in turn come to face and conquer their own, less obvious demons.
This, as is much of the best so-called “summer beach reading”, is about women tapping into their empowerment. The book rotates among the perspectives of each woman, and narrator Denice Hicks is at her best when giving voice to Birdie, a perpetual people-pleaser and the most naive of the bunch. This is a wide-eyed matriarch whose continual surprise and shock at life’s event lends credence to Hick’s lilting, almost musical inflections. Hicks does falter, though, when she reads as the other characters, most notably the worldly and adventurous India, whose nascent affair with a younger woman comes across as disingenuous. At 15 hours, the book isn’t a quick listen, but in the end goes down just as smooth as the Cousins’ coveted Sancerre. Jaime Buerger