What would you do if you had a second chance with your first love? Forty-eight-year-old Dabney Kimball Beech is about to find out. Years ago, her first true love, Clendenin Hughes, left her to go to Thailand to pursue her career as a journalist. Dabney was left, waving to Clen, on the dock where many of her female ancestors bid farewell to their fishermen husbands. And like so many of those wives, her love didn't return either. Until now. Almost 30 years after the last time they saw each other, Clen has come back to Nantucket. But isn’t there an old saying about never being able to go home again? Clen is about to discover just how different things have become.
Dabney is a lifelong islander: “She had been born and raised here, she had worked twenty-two years in service to this island and she would die here. She had been faithful to Nantucket. Oh, Nantucket, more of a mother than her own mother.” So much so that she felt she would die if she ever left the island, even for a short amount of time. Due to her deep love of her home, along with her dynamic personality, she became the head of the Chamber of Commerce, organizing and overseeing the various events around the island, such as Daffodil Weekend and the Christmas Stroll --- all things she revels in. When Clen left, she was never the same, but had to be strong. Shortly thereafter, she discovered she was pregnant.
"Like a good summer barbeque, there’s something for everyone.... [I]t’s Dabney’s storyline that most engages the reader, as we follow her through the twists and turns of her life."
When Clen learned of her pregnancy, he sent Dabney a plane ticket and asked her to join him halfway around the world. But leaving Nantucket behind was not in Dabney’s nature. She turned him down, and in order to deal with the complicated situation, she asked to make a clean break and that he not contact her again. It was the only way she could cope: “Their love had been a castle, the castle had been reduced to rubble, and Dabney cleared the rubble away teaspoon by teaspoon for more than a quarter century until she was sure there was nothing left but a barren clearing inside her.”
After saying goodbye to the love of her life and having their daughter, Agnes, Dabney met Harvard economics professor John Boxmiller Beech, who proved to be the only one to garner Dabney’s affection: “Box had triumphed solely because of his persistence. He showed up in the bitter cold of January and in the windy gray of March. He brought peonies and potted orchids for Dabney and stuffed animals and storybooks for Agnes…. He won over the daughter, the father, and the grandmother, but Dabney remained just out of reach.”
However, her love of the island isn’t the only thing that defines Dabney. She has a gift for fixing people up, with an amazing track record of successful marriages. When someone is right for another, she sees a rosy pink aura around them. When it’s the wrong match, a hazy green fog envelops the person. Only Dabney can see this, but she’s never been wrong. It has helped dozens of islanders find their perfect mate, but has caused friction with her now-adult daughter, Agnes, who has brought home her older, obnoxious boyfriend, C.J., whom Dabney can’t see for the green mist around him.
But now, with Clen’s return, Dabney must decide if she can go home again and start anew with him --- that is, if he would even want to do so. Clen had her in a way no one else would: “He had plucked her heart out of her chest when she was fourteen years old and she had never been able to reclaim it.” But dear sweet Box had been there for her and Agnes when they needed him; even though their marriage was never as intense as her connection with Clen, how could she hurt him? Forbearance is a word Dabney often uses to describe herself. The definition is the quality of someone who is patient and able to deal with a difficult person or situation without becoming angry. Forbearance has seen Dabney through a myriad of crises and has come out the other end even stronger. But when tragedy presents itself, will those Dabney loves be able to be strong for her?
A new Elin Hilderbrand novel has come to signify the start of summer to readers. With the idyllic island setting and her eye for details, her books make you want to plan a trip to Nantucket even before you’ve turned the last page. Her stories are always chockful of relatable characters and situations, sprinkled with a little bit of escapist fantasy for good measure. Like a good summer barbeque, there’s something for everyone here. There may be one subplot too many, but it’s Dabney’s storyline that most engages the reader, as we follow her through the twists and turns of her life. So get a nice comfy chair in a shady place and dive in!
Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on June 13, 2014