Review: Barefoot, by Elin Hilderbrand

by Elin Hilderbrand
Little, Brown and Company, 528 pages
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Last month when I got home from Mexico, and had the opportunity to splurge on books, I looked for beach reading – books that took place in cute coastal villages. I’d been eying the paperback version of Elin Hilderbrands’s sixth Nantucket novel Barefoot for months, and finally brought it home on that trip. I didn’t actually read it it until the beginning of June, however, and when I did, it took a while before I was hooked. This is a novel that starts slowly, cresting like the gentlest of waves.

I don’t mind that sort of novel – sometimes they can be really satisfying reading – and I also didn’t mind that this was really an extended character piece. It begins, of course, with three women, Vicki, Brenda and Melanie, arriving on Nantucket for a summer in the cottage that Vicki and Brenda (sisters) inherited from their aunt. Melanie’s along for the ride because she’s a friend of Vicki’s. Each woman comes with baggage of the figurative kind as well as actual luggage. For Vicki, it’s cancer – she’ll be having chemo while summering by the shore. Brenda was a hotshot professor at a small, private university, fired for having an affair with her student (it should be noted that this isn’t a creepy kind of affair – her student was older than she was – but it was a professional faux pas). And Melanie…Melanie is newly pregnant, but because her husband is having an affair he refuses to end, the only birth announcements she’s made – or pregnancy announcements, for that matter, are to the other women with her on the trip, and, within a couple of chapters, the young islander Josh, who first greets them at the airport, then ends up becoming whatever the male version of an au pair is, since Vicki came with her two young children.

During the summer, Brenda works on the book/screenplay that she hasn’t been able to focus on elsewhere, Vicki becomes empowered with regard to her disease, and Melanie has a summer fling with young Josh.

None of these things are at all surprising, nor is the ending of the novel remotely unpredictable, but sometimes you don’t need a great twist for a novel to be satisfying; sometimes, all you need are vivid descriptions, three-dimensional characters (even when you find some of their behavior a bit annoying), and a cute coastal village. Hilderbrand provides all of those.

Goes well with: lemonade and a tuna sandwich from inside a picnic cooler at the beach.