Elin Hilderbrand’s seventh novel, A SUMMER AFFAIR, is once again set on tranquil Nantucket where Claire Danner Crispin’s life is anything but. Juggling a household, four children and a husband leaves her little time for anything else. She used to be quite an accomplished glass blower. But after an accident in her workroom when she was pregnant with her fourth child, Claire hasn’t returned to her work. Life is hectic enough. Claire, however, is a people-pleaser and has a hard time saying no, which is why she finds herself as the co-chair of the biggest charitable event of the season ---the Nantucket’s Children Summer Gala.
Instead of much needed time with her family, she is running off to meetings with Lockhart (Lock) Dixon, the handsome founder of Nantucket’s Children. But Claire is no fool; she knows full well why she was appointed. It’s a semi-well-known fact that she used to date rock star Max West before he was an international superstar, and they hope she can get him to perform at the gala. Claire hasn’t spoken to Max (or “Matthew,” as he was known then) in years. Last she heard, he was doing another stint in rehab…or was he getting divorced? She hopes he will remember her fondly and help her look like a superstar to the gala committee.
But the beauty of this small island masks a lot of pain going on behind closed doors. Claire struggles with her memories of Max and simpler times. Even though she loves her husband, Jason, a burly island contractor whose favorite thing to do is relax with a beer and watch “Junkyard Wars,” she sometimes wonders where their carefree spark has gone. She is also troubled by her recent attraction to Lock, who is also in a complicated marriage. Claire would go crazy if she didn’t have her sister-in-law, Siobhan, to confide in. Siobhan runs a local catering business with her husband Carter, Jason’s brother, and provides Claire with no-nonsense Irish wisdom while also acting as her moral compass. Siobhan has issues of her own, including Carter’s growing gambling problem and her ex-fiancé’s renewed interest in her.
Guilt seems to play a major role in A SUMMER AFFAIR. Claire feels badly that her workaholic ways led to her youngest child’s developmental problems. She is conflicted about her burgeoning feelings for Lock, as well as feeling guilty that his wife, Daphne, has never been the same after an accident following a girls’ night on the town with Claire and some other local women, where they knew she had too much to drink. Daphne recovers physically but constantly barbs and snipes at everyone. Lock feels tremendous guilt on behalf of his teenaged daughter, Heather, and sticks with Daphne mostly for Heather’s sake and out of well-intentioned loyalty.
In addition to the characters who are donning hair shirts, we have Gavin Andrews, the slimy assistant at Nantucket’s Children, who is brazenly skimming funds from the charity right under Lock’s nose. Gavin hopes to abscond with the money before anyone is the wiser. And there’s Isabelle French, the cold and capable divorcee who is co-chairing the event but seems more adept at making Claire feel inadequate.
A SUMMER AFFAIR captures the beauty and the small-town coziness of Nantucket but also demonstrates that islanders have just as many problems as city dwellers. We follow Claire and the other characters through treacherous waters as they try to navigate their complicated lives. The subplot of the returning rock star boyfriend ends up being a little superfluous, though the domestic issues prove more interesting. Hilderbrand has taken great strides in developing her characters this time out. They are real, flawed and struggle with their own inner demons. They may make mistakes, but they are truly human. And, as in life, their flaws and their labors make them much more relatable.
Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on January 23, 2011
A Summer Affair