If there’s an author out there who can warm up the winter, it’s Elin Hilderbrand. Hilderbrand has a proclivity towards sunny, idyllic Nantucket, which is the setting of Here’s To Us (and all of her other stories).
Nantucket is a character in itself. Of course, it acts as the backdrop of the plot, but the same goings-on couldn’t happen anywhere else. At least, not in something by Elin Hilderbrand. Nantucket is her brand, and she’s an expert on the ins and outs of the island. From the popular beaches that are known to every tourist to the hidden gems in-island, she knows it all. And she makes the reader feel as if they know it, too.
I’ve been reading Elin Hilderbrand’s books since 2012 when I had just graduated from high school. I was somewhat disenchanted with life, being that my big dream of heading to DePaul in Chicago (the university I’ve now graduated from) was postponed. The July after I graduated high school, when I found out that I’d have to slog through community college and essentially pay my dues before getting out of my small town, was the hardest point in my life up until then. I spent a lot of time in my local library, as it had just been redone and it was pretty magical inside. I had grown out of the books from my teenage years and felt like I needed some sort of permission to read something older.
Hilderbrand’s covers were what drew me in at first; I can’t pretend that wasn’t the case! There’s always a beautiful beach vista, a dream world that you can’t help but fall into. I’m not the biggest fan of the beach (I don’t tan, I burn), but Hilderbrand allowed me a way to sit in the sand with the water lapping at the shore… from a comfy armchair in an air-conditioned room.
The first book of hers that I read was The Island. To be honest, I can’t remember the plot - but not because I didn’t enjoy it! Just because I’ve read so, so, so many books in the eight years it’s been since I read that one. But what I do remember is this: It took me away from the little library in Otsego, Michigan, and brought me to an island I had never heard of before. I could practically smell the lobster rolls Hilderbrand loves to mention, feel the sun baking the parting in my hair (a very specific feeling, I know… but I burn there!), and see the crystal blue of the ocean I had never been to.
The concept of books acting as a ticket to somewhere else isn’t a novel idea by any means. But it’s come to the point where I don’t even read the description of an Elin Hilderbrand book anymore, I simply pick them up whenever I come across them. There’s something about Nantucket that, although I’ve never been there, it’s my home away from home. And as a writer, I understand the gravity of that statement. There’s no higher compliment, really, than to say that your books provide sanctuary for those reading them.
And now, back to the book! Here’s To Us is centered around the three once-wives of the late Deacon Thorpe, master chef. Laurel, Belinda, and Scarlett could not be more different, and for a good majority of the book they are at odds with each other, whether it’s shown through subtle jabs or outright fighting. But due to a marriage with Deacon and the fact that each of them had a child (or children) with him, they’re family, and there’s nothing to be done to change that.
To spread Deacon’s ashes, the three wives and their families flock to the house on Nantucket where they all once spent considerable time.
“It's not a house to us. It's a home. And it's not a home, it's a way of life. Our summertime happens here. This house is part of our past, it's our present, it'll be our future. It's who we are.”
This time, though, it’s different. They’ve never been on the island together, alone. Without Deacon—in the flesh, at least—Laurel, Belinda, and Scarlett are forced to face each other in ways they never did while Deacon was alive—and never wanted to.
Laurel was Deacon’s first wife, and his first love. She’s the down-to-earth mother of Hayes, Deacon’s first child, and feels territorial over Deacon’s memory because she was the first to love him. If she were an article of clothing, she would be a white linen dress, worn on the beach. Tried and true and classic. Belinda, Deacon’s second wife, is the eccentric of the bunch. As an actress, her life plays out as a drama and that’s the way she likes it. In the closet of life, she would be a jewel-toned, beaded scarf. And Scarlett, Deacon’s widow, fits oddly into the puzzle because she began as Belinda’s daughter, Angie’s, nanny. If anything, she would be a deep red wrap dress. Fitting her name, red is the color she chooses to wear the most.
Hilderbrand has a way with words in general, but one of her finest talents is how she weaves the concept of family into a plot. She never shoves anything in her reader’s face; her writing is smooth in a way where her points can wait to be realized. From a distance, the menagerie of characters in Here’s To Us don’t fit together whatsoever, and the amount of people in the story can be intimidating. But in reality, after a few chapters, their personalities and backgrounds shine through so clearly that they’re impossible to mix up. With so many vivid faces to choose from, a reader will undoubtedly see themselves in one of them.
If Nantucket is the canvas that Here’s To Us is painted on, then the characters are the primary colors. They might not blend perfectly, but brushed onto the same piece of art, they’re vibrant and beautiful.
Here’s To Us
By Elin Hilderbrand
410 pages. 2016.