Before I departed the “beach reads” category for my usual fare of fantasy, science fiction, and mystery, I decided to read two more books by the one author in my experiment whose work I had actually enjoyed, Elin Hilderbrand.
As before, I checked reviews on Goodreads and tried to pick a couple that were popular and well thought of by a majority of readers. I ended up with The Perfect Couple and The Rumor.
The Rumor‘s story in brief:
The book revolves around two women who live on Nantucket and who have been best friends. One, Grace, has a husband who is the king of the real estate deal, enabling her to live on a beautiful estate where she is transforming an extensive property into her dream garden. She has twin daughters, one predictably vanilla and the other just as predictably bad news, and her husband seems to adore her—when he’s paying attention, which is less and less these days. But her gorgeous and single landscape architect is making up for that with his attentive behavior.
If there’s one thing Grace envies Madeline for, it’s her devoted relationship with her husband, who acts as if the honeymoon never ended. They also have a wonderful son, Brick, who has never given them a moment’s worry…until he started dating Grace’s “bad twin,” Allegra. Madeline, however, is focused at the moment on her overwhelming case of writer’s block, which is preventing her from even starting the new book that is due at her publisher’s any minute. Bills are piling up, and if she can’t get a fix on her next novel, their precarious financial life will begin to fall apart. Even though she doesn’t have the money for it, Madeline decides to rent a small apartment in town to be her writing retreat, hoping it will facilitate a solution. And that’s where the rumors begin…
I liked this story. Yeah, it’s a little shallow, and a little typical, but Hilderbrand’s characters are real individuals, and I loved the distortion of gossip in a small town, as it morphs and changes from one person’s account to the next until it’s something monstrous instead of a perfectly easily explained anomaly. It’s like that old game of “Telephone” that we used to play at slumber parties—one person whispers a secret into the next one’s ear, and that person into the next one’s, and so on, until you get to the end of the circle and the last person tells what they heard, which never remotely resembles the opening statement. I also liked the atmosphere and character of Nantucket, and the descriptions of Grace’s lush garden and
Madeline’s tortuous writing process. Even the teenagers and husbands were real people.
The Perfect Couple:
Greer Winbury, mother of the groom, is determined that the Otis-Winbury wedding will be the event of the season. Since the bride, Celeste, comes from modest means (her parents are middle class with a lot of hospital debt piled up from Karen’s cancer), the groom’s family, who are at the peak of wealth and own one of the premier estates on Nantucket, are hosting the event on the island. The wedding has been meticulously planned, but in a bit of a rush, because no one is sure how much longer the bride’s mother has before the end. This is not the tragedy, however, that prevents the wedding from taking place; the incident responsible is the discovery of a member of the wedding party floating dead in Nantucket Harbor the morning of the ceremony. Nearly everyone in the wedding party is suspect, particularly when Chief of Police Ed Kapenash starts discovering multiple acts of deceit and betrayal amongst the family, friends, and guests…
I find it odd that this book gets consistently high marks and The Rumor was not nearly so well liked; I thought that book had much more depth and completeness as a story than did this one. The Perfect Couple seemed like it was wallowing in clichéd characters, from the older wealthy married man having an affair with the young single woman to the flighty bride and her self-satisfied groom…and the worst was the groom’s mother, the mystery novelist who always gets her way. The way they talk, the way they dress, their attitudes, all scream caricature to me, with the familiar misogynist trope of virgin-slut-bitch applied to most of the women—either prizes to be won or else damningly responsible for the men’s inability to say no. I felt like the author simply made up the situations she needed to propel the plot as she went along, and yet some story lines directly detracted from the reader’s focus on that, furthering the effect that Hilderbrand didn’t know for sure whether she wanted to write a love story or a murder mystery. And I don’t want to provide any spoilers, but I simply don’t believe, knowing what they all knew about everyone involved, that the book would have ended as it did. Enough said. It was an okay read, it wasn’t glaringly boring or bad, it just wasn’t as special as some readers seemed to believe.
I will say that both books did fulfill that “setting” or “place” requirement, in that discussion of the surroundings—the stunning views, the warm breezes and starry nights, the ambience of the restaurants and shops (and the descriptions of the luscious seafood)—definitely heightened enjoyment when reading these books.
I can’t believe it’s been 10 days since I last posted a review. I have continued to read, but in between breakfast, lunch, and bedtime, which are my three reading slots of the day, I have been so busy making art or teaching art that I haven’t had the time to put down my thoughts about reading! I will play catch-up now; I have two more books completed and ready to discuss.
(Should you be curious, you can go look at my art blog: The address is https://theslipcover.blogspot.com.)