book review: The Island

Title: The Island
Author: Elin Hilderbrand
ISBN: 978-0316043878
Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books (July 6, 2010)
Category: contemporary fiction
Review source: publisher
Rating: 3.5/5

Robin had once asked her if she harbored any suicidal thoughts. Yes was the answer, of course; all Chess wanted was to escape her present circumstances. But Chess didn’t have the energy to commit suicide. She was doomed to sit, mute and useless.

But this had always been her problem with men, right? She came on too strong, too soon. She had dry spells that lasted—well, years (the last man she’d slept with had been Andre Clairfeld, who was on the practice squad for the Carolina Panthers, but that had been a drunk, late-night sex things and should probably not be counted)—and then when she found someone she really liked, she was out of practice with ladylike restraint. She was too hungry, too eager, and she frightened men away.

India had, eventually, picked herself up and moved forward—and in rather spectacular fashion. She had, in some ways, made Bill’s suicide work for her. She built a career, a persona; she created a self. And goddamn it, she was proud of this.

India, a widow who works at an art school in Pennsylvania; Birdie, estranged from her husband; and Birdie’s two daughters—Chess, who recently broke off her engagement only to have her ex-fiancé die in a hiking accident; and Tate, a rather socially inept but brilliant computer nerd—gather for a month on the family’s excluded private island, Tuckernuck, off the coast of Nantucket.

In The Island, author Elin Hilderbrand delves into the pasts and presents of these four women, who are at different stages of life—physically and emotionally. All the women are strong in successful in their professional lives, each in her own distinct manner. As often goes, the women struggle with their personal lives. Birdie thought this gathering or vacation would cure what ails her daughters and sister. Perhaps they could all come together and help each other heal.

Chess feels extreme guilt that she had an affair with Matthew’s less successful yet sexier rocker brother Nick. She feels even worse that she broke off the wedding and Matthew died, accident or not. A genius computer consultant, Tate remains in high demand throughout the world. Back on Tuckernuck, her teenage crush on the care keeper’s son Barrett resurfaces. She falls intensely in love with Barrett. Their mother Birdie obsessively calls a guy she’d been dating back home. But then when that unravels she starts to reconsider life with her husband, Grant. And finally India reflects on a relationship with a student.

Hilderbrand writes her flawed and appealing female characters with near perfection. She also gets bonus points for literary references (The Red Tent, Cider House Rules), her choice in music (The Strokes, Death Cab for Cutie and Kings of Leon) and for mentioning my alma mater Simmons College (Barrett’s wife graduated from there with a nursing degree). While The Island may have been a bit too long and unnecessarily wordy at times, I understand why Hilderbrand is so popular and her novels make for engaging summer reads.

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The Island: A Novel

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