Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Review: A Summer Affair by Elin Hilderbrand

Nantucket, the very essence of summer. An artist who has given up her craft to mother her children. A marriage that is emotionally unfulfilling. An elaborate fundraising event. And the temptation of a wealthy man. Life just got complicated but is it ever okay to have an affair? Elin Hilderbrand's tense beach read, A Summer Affair, pulls together these disparate situations and poses this very question.

Claire is a nationally renowned glass artist who has given up her art after an accident in the studio left her unconscious, dangerously dehydrated, and caused her to deliver her fourth child prematurely. Her worries and guilt about baby Zack and the permanent damage she might have done him led her to agree with her husband to shutter the hot shop permanently and just focus on her family. Without her art, Claire needs a creative outlet and she finds herself agreeing to co-chair the annual Nantucket Children's Summer Gala a year from the start of the novel. Claire doesn't really know Lock Dixon, the man asking, but she knows Lock's wife Daphne, who had gone out with her on a girls' night one winter and drank too much before getting in a terrible, life-altering accident on her way home. Claire still harbors guilt over letting Daphne drive off rather than making sure she got home safely and she lets her need to atone not only drive her agreement over co-chairing the gala but also in getting her to agree to consider secretly producing a museum quality piece for the gala's auction, despite the lock on her hot shop door. And if that wasn't enough, she also agrees to secure famous rock star Max West, formerly her high school boyfriend Matthew, to play at the gala.

All of a sudden, Claire is not only up to her eyeballs in commitment and controversy over gala decisions, but she is fighting with her husband Jason over all of it, metaphorically moving further and further away from him. As she abandons her husband emotionally, she is drawn to Lock and to his support of her needs and wants. And so the two of them embark on a risky and potentially scandalous affair, hidden under the guise of working together on this enormous charitable undertaking.

But the novel is not just about the affair. It is also about creativity and the need to express and challenge yourself as Claire does when she starts creating the delicate and impressive chandelier she has envisioned. It is about love and the needs of a partner, family and balance, guilt and atonement, desire and duty. There are a whole host of characters in the novel who swirl around Claire with their own needs, secrets, and agendas, and each of them complicates her decisions. There is so much going on beneath the surface of the community that it's a veritable Peyton Place. Where the troubles faced by all the characters could have been compelling, gambling, embezzling, cognitive impairment, chronic nastiness, etc., they didn't really hum and were negligible compared to Claire's choices. As for Claire and Lock, neither one of them was a particularly appealing character. Claire is wildly emotional, expiring with guilt one moment and sneaking off for furtive sex with Lock the next. Lock is, quite frankly, dull. So their affair, the underlying plot thread throughout the whole story, is not terribly engaging, and not just because of the moral transgression. The ending of the novel is unfinished feeling and surprisingly unemotional but even so, it is a relief to come to it, despite already knowing how it will end, how it must end. Just because Hilderbrand can juggle all the balls she's tossed into the air, doesn't mean they are all necessary to the flourish of this novel. As a beach read, you could do worse but don't be surprised if you don't start rooting for Claire to destroy her own life long before you turn that last page.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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