BEAUTIFUL DAY, Elin Hilderbrand’s 12th novel, opens with a wedding invitation, inviting the reader to the nuptials of Jennifer Bailey Carmichael and Stuart James Graham on July 20, 2013 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Nantucket Island. While almost every bride hopes to enlist the help and wisdom of her mother in planning the perfect wedding, this particular wedding was planned by Jenna’s mother seven years earlier in the form of advice and instructions written in “The Notebook” as she was dying of ovarian cancer.
“Since you’ve been a little girl, you’ve had your heart set on getting married on Nantucket, and although marriage is probably further from your mind now than it was when you were six, I hope that still holds true…. I will, in these pages, endeavor to bestow my best advice for your big day.”
The Notebook is filled with specific details, from the wording on the invitations to the readings at the service, to which heirloom table linens to use on tables set up under the tent in the backyard of the ancestral family home. There is also a list of DO NOTS, including: “Do not, under any circumstances, use Corinthians 13 as a reading. If you use Corinthians 13, you will hear a collective groan.”
The “big day” is now arriving, and the novel’s three main narrators are Margot, Jenna’s older sister; Doug, her father; and Ann, her future mother-in-law.
"Elin Hilderbrand is a master of the “summer beach read.” Her characters are likable and fairly complex, and she is a wonderful storyteller. As in all her novels, BEAUTIFUL DAY pays homage to her love for and deep connection to the island of Nantucket."
Margot, Jenna’s maid-of-honor (as instructed by Beth), is a divorced mother of three young children with a failed marriage behind her and a thriving high-powered career. Margot believes that “love dies” and just wants the weekend to be over. Plus, she is anxious about seeing her secret lover, Edge Desvesnes --- who also happens to be her father’s law partner --- at the wedding.
Doug, Jenna’s father, is a divorce attorney who is just now realizing he is in a loveless marriage with Pauline Tonelli, his second wife, and that the true love of his life was and always will be Beth, Jenna’s mother. Douglas ends up with The Notebook when Pauline conveniently takes it home to read after Jenna accidently leaves it in the restaurant where they last had dinner together.
Ann Graham, the groom’s mother, is a state senator from North Carolina whose life in many ways has been defined by her first and second marriage to the same man, Jim. In between, Jim betrayed Ann by having an affair with their friend, the beautiful Helen Oppenheimer, which resulted in the birth of a son named Chance and a marriage that lasted 29 months. As a half-brother to Stuart, Chance is one of the groomsmen, and Ann decided to invite Helen to the wedding, thinking she would decline. But she didn’t, and now Ann has to spend the weekend of her son’s wedding seeing the woman who nearly ruined her personal and professional lives.
Although all these family members have been betrayed by love in different ways, deep down they still believe happiness is possible and that Jenna and Stuart embody and exemplify all that is right with the institution of marriage.
On the last page of The Notebook, Jenna’s mother writes: “There is no doubt in my mind that, whether you’ve followed my advice or ignored it, you had a glorious, memorable wedding. A wedding is one thing, sweet Jenna, and a marriage is quite another.”
Elin Hilderbrand is a master of the “summer beach read.” Her characters are likable and fairly complex, and she is a wonderful storyteller. As in all her novels, BEAUTIFUL DAY pays homage to her love for and deep connection to the island of Nantucket. Jenna’s wedding reception takes place in the backyard of the house bought by her great-great-great grandfather in 1873. In this passage narrated by Margot, Hilderbrand beautifully conveys that sense of love and connection:
“At one point, Margot’s mother had said ‘Yes, this was a lovely house until we got a hold of it. Now it is merely a useful house, and a well-loved house.’ Margot was shocked at how well loved. She felt euphoric at the sight of the dusty brick of the kitchen floor, the old wooden countertops scarred by 140 years of knives coarsely chopping garden tomatoes, the sound of the screen door slamming as her children ran out back to the green lawn, the seventy-foot oak tree named Alfie --- after Alfred Coates Hamilton, the original owner of the house --- and the wooden swing that hung from Alfie’s lowest branch. Margot had lived in the city all her adult life. She loved Manhattan --- but not like this. Her adoration of Nantucket was matched only by her adoration of her children. She wanted to be buried here, in the shade of Alfie’s leaves, if possible. She would have to write that down somewhere.”
Reviewed by Jennifer Romanello on July 12, 2013
- Publication Date: March 4, 2014
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 432 pages
- Publisher: Back Bay Books
- ISBN-10: 0316099767
- ISBN-13: 9780316099769