An Elin Hilderbrand Nantucket novel has become for me one of the hallmarks of summer. Always entertaining and lighthearted, with some heartfelt emotions, Hilderbrand’s novels are perfect for staycations, beach reads and sitting on your porch / balcony with an icy drink.
Her newest book, Here’s To Us, is no exception. Three women, all in love with the same man — the passionate, temperamental celebrity chef Deacon Thorpe — are drawn to his Nantucket house after he dies. All three women hate each other, and maintain a love/hate relationship with the man they all married and eventually divorced/planned to divorce. Adding to the drama, as Deacon’s best friend and executor Buck is reluctant to reveal, Deacon died heavily in debt so instead of splitting an inheritance or fighting over the proceeds from the Nantucket house, the women instead will need to figure out how to shoulder / split the financial burden he has left behind.
The novel appears ripe for a sitcom or a soap opera-ish drama, but Hilderbrand manages to balance both tones while keeping it all fairly lighthearted. I especially love the characters of the women, how richly drawn each of them is, and how much we glimpse into their lives with Deacon and beyond their relationship with him.
Laurel, Deacon’s childhood sweetheart and first wife, is probably my favourite, or at least the character I could most relate to. Supportive of her husband up until he left her for an actress, Laurel is a wonderfully rich character. A social worker, she is ironically (and tragically) unaware of her own son’s struggles with addiction, and she is understandably reluctant to begin a relationship with Buck, who has secretly held a torch for her for years. I love how, even if she is the oldest among the wives, she is also described as “effortlessly beautiful,” and her low-key beauty is viewed as more impactful than Belinda’s more glamourous style.
Belinda, the second wife, is a Hollywood actress who snapped him up at the height of his celebrity. She appears easy to hate, but on the other hand, is touchingly vulnerable as well. Her relationship with her daughter Angie is strained, and she is ever increasingly aware that she is getting older, and that this is particularly bad in the career she’s chosen.
Deacon’s third wife Scarlett, former nanny to Angie, is mostly portrayed as vapid and spoiled, a bit of karma for Deacon’s womanizing and drug use. Still, I love that she ends up choosing the safety and well-being of her child over a comfortable and wealthy life with Deacon, and also that one of her most extravagant purchases turns out to be an attempt at helping Deacon with his finances.
Angie, Deacon and Belinda’s daughter, is another really vivid character. A chef who apprenticed with her famous father, she is struggling with how best to continue his legacy, and to build her own life. Adding to the complication is that she is in love with a married man, and having to navigate a weekend with her estranged mother and the women her mother hates the most.
Hilderbrand’s strengths have always been her characters, her descriptions of Nantucket, and the relationships that bring all the elements together. The women are crafted so vividly that I can almost imagine being friends and having conversations with them, and urging Laurel in real life to go ahead and find a second chance at love with Buck.
Even Deacon manages to be a sympathetic character. Even if he was a jerk to the women he loved and not much of a father to two of his three kids, he was still a wonderful father and mentor to Angie, and in fact appears most sympathetic and likeable when we see him through Angie’s eyes. We also get a glimpse into his childhood, one of the happiest days of his life which turned into the day his father pretty much destroyed all of his childhood illusions. Deacon’s love and desire for Nantucket are rooted in that childhood incident, and for all his faults, you can’t help but feel for him and wish that for his sake, he is able to recapture the magic from that one day.
Nantucket, as always, is as much a character as the people in Hilderbrand’s stories are, and the elegaic tone of parts of this novel make me long to visit this place all the more. Here’s to Us is a bit heavier than some of Hilderbrand’s other beach reads, but it’s still a wonderful book, and a thoughtful story about love and family.
Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.