The Island, Hilderbrand’s ninth novel, takes place on tiny private Tuckernuck Island, meshing with Nantucket, the setting of her previous books. We are introduced to Birdie Cousins, recently divorced from an emotionally loveless marriage, who has finally found a man she feels she could love. As Birdie plans her eldest daughter, Chess’s wedding, thoughts of her new lover has her reflecting on her thirty-year marriage to Grant, and how he was largely absent and distracted.
Then Chess calls off her engagement, and right after the breakup, her ex-fiancé dies in an accident. When Chess arrives at her mother’s Connecticut home with her head shaved, she declares she has just quit the job she loves. Appalled at her emotional state, Birdie throws all thoughts of her own love affair out the window to care for her almost catatonic child. Birdie suggests they spend the month of July at their summer home on Tuckernuck Island.
Needing to help Chess through this debilitating time, Birdie enlists the aid of her own sister, India, a widow still reeling from the suicide of her well-known sculptor husband several years before. Birdie also calls upon her youngest daughter, Tate, a workaholic who has never found time for a relationship, but who loves her sister. The foursome head to the bucolic, albeit isolated, family compound with no electricity or modern conveniences, to bond and help heal Chess.
However, it appears that Chess is not the only one in need of healing. Birdie becomes disconsolate upon realizing her new beau will not commit. India, having turned her grief around through a high-powered position as the curator at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, now carries her own secrets regarding a student she mentors. And, Tate, an A-personality-type computer guru, is filled with despair when she comes face to face with Barrett Lee, caretaker of their island home and a man whom she has loved since age seventeen, but who needs to contend with his own demons.
Rather than using traditional numbered chapters, Ms. Hilderbrand gives her characters their own episodes throughout the book, giving the reader deeper insight into their personal angst, emotions, and frailties.
Though Ms. Hilderbrand’s books are considered “beach reads,” this reviewer found this particular novel to be anything but light and lively. The author digs deep into the psyche of four different women laying their souls bare, and though her descriptions of the setting are exceptional and her prose superb, the overall texture of this novel is depressing. Rather than bonding and sharing each other’s anguish, these women are loners, keeping their own woes close to the vest, even though they demonstrate love for each other.
Throughout all the gloom and doom, the author does manage to imbue a little sunshine into the ending, but it’s a long time coming.