Monday, July 6, 2009

Review: The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand

With such a beachy cover, is it any wonder that this novel is being marketed as the perfect summer reading? But the light and sunny cover hides a much darker and more complicated story than you would expect.

The novel opens with the Chief of Police on Nantucket fielding a call telling him that two of his friends (one, his wife's beloved cousin) are dead, having drowned in a sailing accident, leaving behind twin 7-year olds. Told in a round robin sort of format, the chapters tell how each of the six surviving extremely close friends not only grieve Greg and Tess' deaths but also tells each person's past history with the deceased. Through an examination of their relationships within this cluster of couples, the problems in the MacAvoy marriage are fully disclosed; their lives and loves, missteps and mistakes highlighted and scrutinized.

But the book isn't just about Greg and Tess and the gut-wrenching effect their deaths have on this closely-knit group of friends, it is also a novel about surviving the imperfections and heart aches and everyday tragedies that dog everyone's life. It is about love and marriage and trust. It is about who we are through circumstance and personality.

The Chief is solid and unshakeable, the epitome of a small town police chief. Andrea is the former athlete, the mother of the group and Tess' beloved cousin. Addison is the generous, wealthy one who has seemingly stood by his wife even when she is so medicated she is almost comatose. Phoebe has been numb, in the thrall of any pharmaceutical she can wrap her fingers around, since September 11 when her twin brother died in the World Trade Center attack. Jeffrey is the stolid, responsible farmer who has only loved two women in his life, the group caretaker. Delilah is the entertainer who used to keep the group animated and cheerful. But all six of them are more than these simple distilled truths. They are people grieving deeply and harboring a train wreck's worth of secrets from and about each other.

Focused mainly on the six months immediately following the deaths of Tess and Greg, the two most immediately engaging members of the group, the book eventually spans the first year after the accident. But with the deaths of two, major cracks start to show in the friendships of the remaining members of "The Castaways." Delilah and Andrea seem locked in some sort of jealous power struggle for Tess' children and for her memory. Addison can't climb out of his grief at losing Tess, murkily certain that Greg has killed her to cover up a continuing affair (or non-affair) with one of his high school students. None of the friends seem to be capable of moving past the deaths except Phoebe, who manages to wean herself off the pills in the aftermath of the accident.

Each of the characters in the book holds a small key to what really happened in Tess and Greg's marriage and therefore what was likely to have happened out on the boat. But for all their closeness (and it really borders on incestuousness--Andrea having lived with Jeffrey before marrying the Chief is only the most socially acceptable relationship between the friends here), none of them can share what they know and move forward until the very end of the book. However, the big scene at the end seemed too easy and pat for the messiness revealed throughout the rest of the book. The characters felt authentic in their grief and I appreciated that each character handled that grief differently and at his or her own pace but I wondered if the characters' flaws needed to be so great to earn them this grief. I was left thinking these people were a train wreck at which I couldn't help gawking. The story kept me reading along avidly, except for occasional moments when I would think, "I really don't want to read what I know is coming next." In the end, the book was fine if a little melodramatic and if you are looking for an easy, soapy sort of read for the summer, you'll find it in this, albeit a little less sunny than usual.

Other blogs participating in blog tour for this book are listed below. Click on them to see what they all thought of this book as well. I suspect you'll find some different points of view.

1 comment:

  1. I've heard a lot of good things about this one. It's in my pile, and I hope to start it soon.

    Diary of an Eccentric


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