Wandering around yesterday’s Brooklyn Book Festival and seeing how very many presses and authors there are who really want us to read their books, I had to question some of my recent reading choices. There are too many books with love potential to return to authors I haven’t enjoyed in the past, yet for some reason I keep checking out Elin Hilderbrand’s books. Why?
Hilderbrand releases a new book every summer and they’re always set on Nantucket. Initially I liked the idea of having this small slither of predictability in my reading life like clockwork. Plus the first few books of hers that I picked up were light, fun and well written – The Island and Blue Bistro. Then I began overdosing on Hilderbrand summer candy with one a month and that’s when my boyfriend pointed out that my mood plummets every time I pick her up. Apparently reading about overprivileged rich trophy wives and cheating spouses behaving like jackasses doesn’t do much for my glow, so Elin and I took a good long multi-year break.
Then a librarian just had to recommend Beautiful Day and the promise of immersing myself in fictional melodrama and an island setting was just too tempting to resist. It was like not drinking coffee for the whole summer and loving my new found non-dependent morning focus after weeks of headaches only to sink back into coffee’s bitter clutches on the first cool fall morning when the hot black brew just felt right. (True story)
The story takes place over a long weekend on Nantucket where Jenna’s dream wedding is set to take place. Everyone she loves will be there, everyone except her mother who died of cancer seven years prior. But the wedding is almost exactly as her mother imagined, thanks to a notebook she wrote on her deathbed filled with wedding opinions so Jenna would know where she stood.
Excerpts from the notebook and references to it are so frequent that the thing becomes a character itself. The use of a notebook isn’t a new plot device, but I found it particularly annoying here because it’s entirely focused on an elaborate one-day ceremony and the over-the-top gatherings leading up to it.
I’m not a mother or married and the phrase “dream wedding” makes me roll my eyes, so maybe I should’ve put the book down right here. Because I couldn’t comprehend why a dying mother would choose to write to her daughter solely about her future wedding. Aren’t there more interesting events or thoughts to share than choosing place settings and flowers? What about life lessons like how to cheat at Scrabble and Battleship without getting caught?
The main characters make up the wedding party: Jenna’s older divorced sister Margot is her maid of honor and her best friend and step-sister are bridesmaids. Both families descend on the island for a wildly extravagant wedding that no one seems to care about. Maybe that’s why we spend most of our time with Margot and the father instead of the bride, both of whom are too self absorbed to propel anything forward. Since the big decisions have already been made, the structure of the book mirrored a real life stuffy wedding weekend only in that I couldn’t wait for it to end. And I realize this sounds curmudgeonly, but I am a hermit-troll-in-training.
The thing that annoyed me the most about this book was the author’s repeated reference to price tags. She really wanted you to know that this wedding cost well over $100,000 and was therefore “beautiful”. Hook-ups, spilled wine and tears ensue – there are no surprises along the way.
By the end I realized what keeps me coming back is the love Hilderbrand’s characters have for Nantucket. I’ve never loved a place in a way that ties me to it, but it’s a wonderful thing to read about. This quality is present in all of her books I’ve read. Unfortunately, the characters and scenarios are so similar that looking back at her bibliography, I have a hard time remembering one from another. That’s the one with the rich white woman MC who has an affair and it all almost blows up in her face, oh wait, that’s that one and that one, too.
If you’re a Hilderbrand fan, you’ll probably enjoy it. She’s a decent writer and does have her formula nailed. Beautiful Day put me to sleep on a few restless nights. I think I’m finally done with troubled princesses. I’d rather try a new-to-me author. Someone who will give me nightmares or at least not put me in a bad mood.