I call it the wedding book, but really it’s a book about marriage. I hit every point on the possible spectrum of marriages, from the best marriages to the worst marriages, from the worst divorce to the best divorce. — Elin Hilderbrand
Anyone who knows me knows I pine for Elin Hilderbrand’s novels, which are set on Nantucket Island. Her latest gem, “Beautiful Day,” is no exception. Her writing encompasses rich character development and explores the kind of thematic content that tugs on your heartstrings – love, loss and personal growth.
“Beautiful Day” features an extravagant wedding between Jenna Carmichael and Stuart Graham that’s to take place at the Carmichaels’ summer home in Nantucket; a house that’s been in the family for generations; a house rooted with history and filled with memories.
Sentimentality surrounds the storyline of Jenna’s late mother, Beth, who left her a Notebook with detailed suggestions and guidance for the big day. There is some lighthearted advice – for instance, in terms of the hors d’oeuvres, she writes that spinach gets stuck in your teeth and smoked salmon invites bad breath; for the readings, she prefers a poem or recitation of song lyrics, because the Corinthians 13 might ignite a “collective groan.” However, this Notebook doesn’t just incorporate wedding plans. Beth simply talks to her daughter, from the heart, and tries to be there for her, even though her physical presence is absent.
And what is a wedding weekend without family drama? With relationship triangles and entanglements from various family members, Hilderbrand makes sure to give us plenty of rollercoaster plot points that will keep the pages turning.
Of course I’d be careless not to note one of the leading protagonists in “Beautiful Day” – the breathtaking location itself. The essence of Nantucket is part of who they are; this applies to Beth, especially.
“I can remember being on the ferry when it pulled into the harbor and first seeing the church steeples and gray shingles and sailboats, and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, it’s the perfect harbor town,’” Hilderbrand said during an interview with Coastal Living. “And I remember lying on the white sand with the blue sky and the green eel grass and deciding this is heaven on Earth, and I’m never leaving.”
The author has lived on the ‘island of healing’ for 20 years now, and as a reader who yearns for images of quaint shops (Mitchell’s Book Corner, Claudette’s Sandwich Shop, The Juice Bar), and the red and white Sankaty Lighthouse (just to name a few charming spots), I’m certainly grateful for Hilderbrand’s natural, inspirational habitat.
“Beautiful Day” also explores the notion that “love dies,” a mantra boldly echoed by Jenna’s divorced sister and maid of honor, Margot, whose current romantic relationship with an older man is in shambles. While it’s not exactly a revelation that some relationships break up (the Carmichael clan certainly has evidence to illustrate this sentiment), and the future is uncertain (will what you want now change in five years?), you can only hope that you will grow together and not apart.
Hilderbrand isn’t sugarcoating anything in this read, but she delicately and tastefully illustrates a realistic shade of romanticism. Sure, love doesn’t always work out in the end; life happens, things change, but you can still take a leap of faith.
Even her dedication at the end of the book is worthy of mention: “This novel is for my grandparents Clarence and Ruth Huling, who would have been married for seventy years on June 19, 2013. This book was meant to be published in honor of their anniversary. My grandfather Clarence W. Huling Jr. died before he could see this book published. And so, to my grandmother Ruth Francis Huling, I would like to say this: Thank you Gramma, for showing me what love is supposed to look like. You allow me to believe.”
“Beautiful Day” invites emotional investment in these characters, storylines, and of course, Nantucket, where magic seems to reside.