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28 Summers

Review

28 Summers

Elin Hilderbrand’s 28 SUMMERS is the rinse-and-repeat love affair of Mallory Blessing and Jake McCloud.

Jake is a friend of Mallory’s brother, Cooper, and they begin their clandestine romance over the phone. Their flirtation is consummated when they meet at the beachside summer cottage that Mallory has just inherited from her Aunt Greta on Nantucket, where she is hosting Cooper’s bachelor party. As drama ensues, the two are left alone, and Jake conveniently forgets about Ursula DeGournsey --- the girl he has known since eighth grade and has been dating in D.C., where they now live. He describes the relationship to Mallory as “complicated.”

28 SUMMERS is also “complicated,” to say the least. It is more of a social commentary on marriage and modern relationships than it is a breezy, romantic beach read. The only character without a flaw is the island of Nantucket. Hilderbrand’s descriptions --- “until it was just beach, water, grassy dunes, and in the distance, a white lighthouse with a black top hat,” “the ocean is a blue satin sheet beyond,” “the eelgrass sways; the gulls dip and swoop unpredictably in the wind” --- are alluring and seductive.

"[28 SUMMERS] is more of a social commentary on marriage and modern relationships than it is a breezy, romantic beach read. The only character without a flaw is the island of Nantucket."

However, this is where the seduction stops. There is a distinct lack of steamy passion between our once-a-year lovers. The fact that they do exactly the same thing, eat the same meals and watch the same movie --- Same Time, Next Year --- that inspires their get-together every Labor Day weekend shows that this is a shallow relationship, even though it lasts 28 summers. It feels stale except for the Nantucket sunshine.

Hilderbrand compares their relationship to that of Mallory’s parents, who were a breath of fresh air. They were the life of the party who raised two children together, had lots of friends, were happily married and died tragically together, having led full, happy lives.

Mallory’s brother marries four times during the course of the novel, each time thinking that this woman standing in front of him at the altar is the perfect choice. He dates, he marries, he divorces. Isn’t that the acceptable track? Hilderbrand would have us thinking that perhaps a Same Time, Next Year affair is an option that allows freedom. In Mallory’s case, she conducts multiple relationships and affairs, one resulting in a pregnancy that gives her a beloved son.

Except for Labor Day weekend, Jake and Mallory live their lives without each other. Jake marries Ursula, who Hilderbrand paints as a wealthy bitch; she is safe and familiar to him because she was there for his twin sister, who was dying of cystic fibrosis. Ursula is an overachiever who has her own skeletons when it comes to their relationship. Both are dreadfully unhappy, leading Ursula to have an affair of her own, which almost derails her run for the presidency. In year 27 of her husband’s affair, this supposedly smart senator puts the pieces together with a little help from some spying eyes on Nantucket and confronts the “other” woman.

Mallory wonders, Would you rather have perfect bliss for only three days or a solid but dull relationship all year long? There are times when Jake feels guilty because he is undeniably conducting an affair, and now he, too, has a child with Ursula, the same age as Mallory’s son. He thinks, They are living inside a magic bubble, the kind that doesn’t pop. A conundrum for sure, and the reader wonders how many Same Time, Next Year relationships might exist in reality. In a 2018 interview with The Boston Globe, Hilderbrand stated, “What I write about in my novels is also what’s in my life.”

Jake and Mallory justify their unique relationship in their own way because it makes them happy. For 28 summers, they experience nothing but magic and everlasting love.

Reviewed by Hillary Wagy on June 19, 2020

28 Summers
by Elin Hilderbrand

  • Publication Date: June 16, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • ISBN-10: 0316420042
  • ISBN-13: 9780316420044