- The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand
- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (July 7, 2009)
- ISBN-13: 978-0316043892
Back of the book blurb: Greg and Tess MacAvoy are one of four prominent Nantucket couples who count each other as best friends. As pillars of their close-knit community, the MacAvoys, Kapenashes, Drakes, and Wheelers are important to their friends and neighbors, and especially to each other. But just before the beginning of another idyllic summer, Greg and Tess are killed when their boat capsizes during an anniversary sail. As the warm weather approaches and the island mourns their loss, nothing can prepare the MacAvoy’s closest friends for what will be revealed.
She is Too Fond of Books’ review: The Castaways are four couples who have known each other for decades. Two of the women are cousins; in fact, Andrea is often more of a mother-figure than peer to Tess, who is twelve years younger. Andrea is now married to Ed Kapenash, the island’s police chief, but was deeply involved with Jeffrey Drake for many years, before he met his wife Delilah. Confused? You won’t be after you read The Castaways.
Elin Hilderbrand’s just-published novel combines a beautiful setting, detailed character development, and a plot that occurs as much in flashbacks as in the present. As various histories and complex relationships are revealed chapter by chapter, we learn what has motivated and driven each of these islanders.
A huge strength, in my opinion, is the way Hilderbrand introduces us to her multi-faceted characters. We see them in action, connected to others, and their personalities shine. Take, for example, this passage from early in the book; it introduces Jeffrey and Delilah:
She was the kind of mother who was always doing things with the boys. Today, [Jeffrey] knew, had started off with a nature walk; then they had picked up sandwiches in town and gone fishing on the south side of the pond, out of the wind, with Delilah tirelessly hooking and rehooking their lures. Often the day would end with an ice cream or a movie, but today it was strawberry picking. The boys were eight and six; they both had energy like Delilah’s – they never stopped, they never tired. Their life was one long adventure with their mother, punctuated by treats. She rarely said no to them. But four evenings a week, when she left for the restaurant, Jeffrey took over and reality closed in. He made them eat vegetables, he made them bathe, he made them rest. He wasn’t as exciting as their mother, but they needed him.
Another passage (p. 37) describes how and why The Castaways came to be. The four couples were planning the first of many vacations together, and Phoebe, in a holdover from her days as a tour guide, insisted that they choose a name to wear on personalized baseball caps. This is a fantastic detail that not only gives us more of their shared histories, but tells us briefly how the eight came to live on Nantucket. In the chapters that follow, alternating between the present and past, Hilderbrand creates layer upon layer of detail:
The Castaways: Because Delilah has run away from her parents and found Nantucket, because Jeffrey had inherited a farm from an uncle he barely knew, because Greg had played in a (different) band with a guy whose parents owned a house in Sconset, because Andres had been recruited to be the head lifeguard in the summer of 1988 and where Andrea went, Tess was sure to follow. Because Addison had scoped out the community with the most valuable real estate on the East Coast, and he had brought his new bride, Phoebe. Because The Chief had been transferred from Swampscott to shape up the police department. They had all washed up on the shores on Nantucket, and they had stayed and made it their home. They had found each other.
The Castaways explores what happens when two members of their group die in an apparent sailing accident. There are secrets and confidences, gossip and speculation. Through it all, readers are treated to peeks from the past as well as seeing how the remaining Castaways respond to the loss, and how it impacts their relationships.
The island setting lends itself so well to the plot and character development. Although not truly isolated, there is an insular feeling to this close-knit community, and the book focuses on the remaining six members of The Castaways. Yes, there are children and grandparents mentioned, but they don’t play a major role, other than how their relationships have further shaped who the adults are.
Nantucket is the perfect setting for this novel. Aside from the anonymous sea and Drake’s fictional farm, Hilderbrand incorporates many of the island’s landmarks and attractions, making a connection for anyone who has spent time on the island. Nantucket is also the setting for her previous novels, Barefoot and A Summer Affair. You can visit Elin Hilderbrand’s website, a Ning social network with discussion boards and insider information.
Many thanks to Hachette Book Group for inviting me to be part of this virtual book tour and providing a review copy. Click here to visit other stops on Elin Hiderbrand’s tour of The Castaways.