books and reading · reviews

Book Review: Beautiful Day by Elin Hilderbrand

The Carmichael family, along with the Grahams, have come to Nantucket for a wedding.  While not unique in theory, the plans for this wedding have come together thanks to a notebook full of wishes of the bride’s late mother.  Everything should be falling into place according to Dead Beth’s wishes, but then things start spiraling out of control.  Like most weddings, drama cannot be avoided.

Hilderbrand has crafted a name for herself as an author who sets her novels (probably the epitome of a beach read) on the island of Nantucket.  Her wealthy protagonists have their share of quirks and tics, and this novel is no different.  All the hallmarks of a Hilderbrand novel are present: bizarre first names, wealthy families, sarcastic conversations, and family drama.  Which means that while the novel doesn’t offer up much in the way of surprises, it should satisfy readers who enjoy Hilderbrand’s work.

There are a few things that Hilderbrand does particularly well: she does a nice job of establishing a cast of characters with distinct voices and motivations.  Her ear for dialogue between characters, especially when they’re sniping at each other, is both amusing and realistic.  A large cast keeps things moving along at a good pace.

The problem comes from the fact that none of the characters are very sympathetic, and that the stakes present in the novel feel so low that it’s hard to care about the outcome.  The central conflict–will Jenna and Stuart (so bland is this man that I just spent 10 minutes trying to remember his name) get married–never really feels like that big of a deal.  Because of this, the novel’s tension doesn’t quite work as well as Hilderbrand wants it to.

Another thing that some readers will struggle with is the concept of The Notebook itself.  Before Beth dies, she leaves behind a notebook detailing (in excruciatingly clear detail, natch) all the things she wants for Jenna’s wedding.  There are several things about this that are worrisome: that Beth’s dying wish is for her youngest daughter to have a “perfect” wedding feels profoundly arcane; and that Beth’s attention to every detail leaves nothing for Jenna or Stuart to decide on when it comes to their wedding.  While Beth frames these ideas as suggestions, there’s quite a bit of emotional manipulation in her wording, and the fact that she is dead sort of leaves her notebook as the final word on wedding planning.  It’s creepy, and it’s controlling, and yet the reader and characters (with the exception of step-mom Pauline) are supposed to believe that Beth was wonderful, perfect, etc.

Perhaps some readers won’t take issue with this aspect of the novel.  Some will take it at face value, and that is fine, for this reader’s guess is that was Hilderbrand’s intention.  It just didn’t totally work as a narrative device, leaving the novel lacking something.

Perfectly fine beach read, but the characters were pretty insufferable.

Beautiful Day by Elin Hilderbrand. Hachette: 2013. Library copy of the Audiobook.

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