Elin Hilderbrand's new novel Silver Girl, just released last week, is a successful addition to her list of entertaining books set on Nantucket and involving women who are dealing with crises of various sorts -- often husbands who are troubling or in trouble -- and tensions in their friendships with other women. This time, her main character is based on a sympathetic imagining of the problems faced by Ruth Madoff, the wife of Bernie Madoff, history's biggest swindler and ponzi-scheme architect. Hilderbrand's character, Meredith Delinn, escapes New York's omnipresent paparazzi, fleeing to Nantucket with her best friend from childhood, Connie Flute. There, Delinn awaits news of whether prosecutors will charge her with aiding her jailed husband in his financial crimes, and the two women face a variety of relationship dilemmas involving their children and available men.
The story isn't as silly as it sounds. Sure, it's a beach read, but far better than the average for that genre. Hilderbrand knows how to maintain various strands of tension in a novel of this sort. Her characters are believable and interesting. Like her other books, this is a great beach read -- or, as in my case, a good book for a cold, rainy June day. ★★★★☆
I had a less fortunate encounter this week with Maine, the new novel by J. Courtney Sullivan. I had read Sullivan's first novel, Commencement, a few years ago and found it mildly entertaining. So, I got suckered in by the big advertising push being conducted by Knopf, publisher of Sullivan's new novel about several generations from one family who congregate every year at their beach house in Maine. I only got a third of the way through this book before giving up on it. Nothing happens; I mean nothing! And the characters are incredibly uninteresting.
Sullivan hits her stride once she gets all her characters to Maine [which, incidentally, wasn't even close to happening when I stopped reading a third of the way through]. There, she can put them around a dinner table or take them out to a field and let the fireworks erupt. Unfortunately, for much of the book, Alice is the only one actually in Maine. The other family members are still at home, packing and fretting. Sullivan inundates us with their memories and hurts, straining to set the stage. One yearns as her characters do to escape their tangled ruminations and get to the beach.
Once they do arrive, we’re not disappointed. The narrators come fully to life, and the dynamics between them are rich and exhilarating. . . .
Many novels begin with a full head of steam, only to peter out halfway through. So often I’ve gushed to friends about a book, then had to call them later to retract my recommendation. “Maine,” conversely, starts slowly, but once it gets going, it does not falter. . . .
Maybe. But there are too many good books out there to sit around waiting for one to work its magic. A novelist has to grab you at the start and impel you to keep reading. Spending more than the first third of a 400-page book on characters' backstory is ridiculous. No author can afford to do that. I put down Maine after 120 deadly pages; I then picked up Silver Girl and was immediately drawn in. After finishing Silver Girl, I went back and gave Sullivan's book one more try. But another 30 pages still left me cold.
Save your money. If you want a good beach read, go with Hilderbrand, not Sullivan. ★☆☆☆☆