Name of Book: The Castaways
By: Elin Hilderbrand
Publisher: Little Brown
Copyright Date: 2009
Number of Pages: 359
Reason for Reading: read the first twenty pages while waiting for the studio to open and it captured my attention enough to take it home.
Greg and Tess MacAvoy set sail for Martha’s Vineyard to celebrate their twelfth wedding anniversary. A tragic accident leaves them both dead. The MacAvoys left behind their seven year-old twins and a close-knit group of friends. Six people, three couples. The Castaways is a story about grief and relationships. It is an examination of we grieve, the myriad ways in which it manifests.
I found this book at my yoga studio on the book sharing shelf. I started reading it before class one weekend morning as I had arrived extra early. The first twenty pages captured my attention. I took it home and finished it by Sunday evening.
The story is told from the viewpoints of our six survivors. What grabbed my attention at the beginning was that I, the reader, was experiencing the moment each character found out Greg and Tess were dead. The seeds were planted immediately for the mystery involved and the secrets that would inevitably be revealed.
I enjoy character-driven stories. I like learning about the complexities that comprise the different personalities and the relationships between. I am also a bit fascinated by the way grief expresses itself, the way it manages to crack people open and shut others down.
Andrea, Tess’s cousin, literally goes mad in her grief. She cannot function. She is so consumed with anger, grief, and a very intense guilt borne from an incident that happened in her youth. Phoebe has lived in a grief-filled, medicated haze ever since her twin brother jumped from the World Trade Center. She has not moved on. Instead, she has completely checked out, becoming a zombie who goes through the motions but has nothing left for anyone. She is so deep in her grief that her reaction to Greg and Tess’s death is startling and unexpected.
In their death, secrets are unraveled, repressed feelings burst forth to the surface, and the interconnected relationships of the three remaining couples begin to fray.
I was engaged in the story, but there was something that kept the characters from becoming fully fleshed. I can’t quite pinpoint what it was, but they fell a little flat and never developed the defining edges, although plenty of information and history was given. However, Nantucket Island felt like an invisible character. I could clearly picture the postcard streets and imagine island life.
Hilderbrand writes about food in a way that made me viscerally hungry and long for the tasty morsels she was describing:
“A succession of marvels came out of the kitchen-duck confit on a gaufrette, endive stuffed with aged chèvre and a balsamic fig, a platter of petit croque-monsieurs, an asparagus salad topped with a quivering poached egg. Tiny ramekins of the most decandent onion soup gratinée Addison had ever tasted.”
“She carefully constructed a masterpiece bite out of farmhouse bread, Roquefort, apricot preserves, and a candied pecan. Sandrine had just dropped off a cheese plate worthy of August Renoir.”
Overall, I enjoyed the story. Despite the characters being slightly two-dimensional, the story was engaging with complex relationships, a layered examination of grief, and a mystery to boot. It was an interesting and relaxing way to spend a Sunday afternoon.