Thursday, July 27, 2017

"The Identicals," by Elin Hilderbrand

I am writing an academic book (no, not a novel, although I wish I had the talent to do so!); the deadline for submitting my manuscript to my publisher is next month, so I have been spending much of my time this summer working hard to finish. One recent weekend, I spent my morning doing my usual Saturday home-related chores and errands, and my afternoon writing for several hours at our local library, where I also checked out some books, mostly novels. I came home planning to eat dinner and then write some more. But after dinner I thought I would read for a few minutes before working. I sat down with a novel I had specifically gotten for relaxation, a classic “beach novel,” “The Identicals” (Little, Brown, 2017), by Elin Hilderbrand. A half an hour later, I told myself to stop reading and start working again. Then: “Well, just a little longer.” And “just one more chapter.” You can see where this is going, right? Three or four hours later, I finished the last chapter and finally came up for air. Was it worth it? Well, yes. It is a classic page turner, goes down easy, and I just couldn’t break away. My rationale afterward was that I had worked pretty hard that day (and week, and month), and I “needed” something fun and relaxing; this book fit the bill perfectly. (And I went back to writing the next day with renewed energy!) The story involves twin sisters in their late thirties, one of whom lives on Martha’s Vineyard and the other on Nantucket; they used to be very close, but became semi-estranged after one goes to live with one parent and the other with the other. Each of them has a complicated life, including a complicated love life. Lots of plotty plot ensues, including mix-ups (they are, after all, identical twins; there are even allusions to the Hayley Mills twins movie, “The Parent Trap”), heartbreak, suspense, and yes, lots of scenes of beaches and of the charming towns of the two islands. There is also much mention of markets, cafes, and food, including the specialties of various places on each island. All great fun. Throughout there is a half-serious, half-humorous mention of a rivalry between the two beautiful islands, the backdrop to a sort of rivalry between the twins. Hilderbrand, the author, has lived on both islands, but has lived on Nantucket for the past 24 years. She writes, she says in her afterword, two books a year. She has clearly found her lane and knows her audience, and that is an honorable thing: she gives her readers pleasure and relaxation. I have written before about my mixed feelings about “beach reads” and “chick lit,” but I believe most of us readers enjoy different genres of books at different times for different purposes. “The Identicals” was just what I needed at this specific time.

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