Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Women & Mothers in "The Island"

There's nothing quite like a rainy day of reading, unless that rainy day involves coffee and book shopping with your husband at the local Barnes & Noble. Sure, I have a stack of library books just waiting to be finished, but who doesn't jump at the chance to buy clearance books? I picked up The Island by Elin Hilderbrand this weekend, and I am psyched to add her to my list of go-to-beachy authors (along with Dorthea Benton Frank and Patricia Gaffney). 

I have always been drawn to books set in a small New England beach town or a small coastal town in the Carolinas, so when I saw the cover for The Island I immediately knew it was the book for me [ASIDE: this realization sort of makes me wonder what e-Readers are doing for book marketing? I mean, if you're "old school" like myself and my mother, you don't view book covers in color  (because you have an original black-and-white Kindle). What kind of effect does this have upon the books we actually buy? END OF ASIDE

Boy was I right! The Island has many of my favorite story elements - interesting, complex female characters who, through self reflection and familial support, go after what they really want from life - be that romance, career, solitude, family, or self discovery. Hilderbrand also employs one of my favorite story telling techniques - multiple narrators. Though Birdie's narration opens the story, her daughters Chess and Tate, and her sister India, take part in the narration. I have always found this to be a compelling way to tell a story and Hilderbrand does not disappoint. By narrating from four different perspectives, Hilderbrand allows a multitude of readers to connect with her work. There can be no bad ending to the story because each woman has a different, but equally satisfying conclusion.

The story begins when Chess, Birdie's over-achieving, seemingly perfect daughter calls to tell her she has broken off her engagement. Chess explains very little about the fallout with Michael and quickly sinks into depression - Chess buzzes her head, quits her lucrative magazine job and refuses to talk about the breakup. Ever the good mother, Birdie grows concerned and plans a trip to Tuckernuck Island, a small rustic isle off the coast of Nantucket where the family once summered. Along with Tate and India, Birdie attempts to help Chess heal herself - but the funny thing about helping others is that it often leads to healing wounds we ourselves didn't know we had. All four women benefit from a "life" vacation, growing and changing in unexpected and illuminating ways.  

It's funny, but my favorite quote from The Island is part of the acknowledgements section wherein the author thanks her mother -"this book is for my mother . . . she taught me absolutely everything I know about unconditional love." This unconditional love Hilderbrand refers to fuels the novel, and it is this that makes me enjoy it so. Many of my favorite books include intense mother-daughter relationships. Any author who can write full, complicated, and long-standing relationships in the pages of a novel and make them feel real is a winner in my book. And in spite of my Kindle love, I never would have discovered Elin without a trip to a real bookstore. 

*quotes from The Island, by Elin Hilderbrand, Little, Brown, & Company 2010

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