Elin Hilderbrand, 2007
Little, Brown and Company
It's summer on Nantucket, and as the season begins, three women arrive at the local airport, observed by Josh, a local boy, home from college. Burdened with small children, unwieldy straw hats, and some obvious emotional issues, the women—two sisters and one friend—make their way to the sisters' tiny cottage, inherited from an aunt.
They're all trying to escape from something: Melanie, after seven failed in-vitro attempts, discovered her husband's infidelity and then her own pregnancy; Brenda embarked on a passionate affair with an older student that got her fired from her prestigious job as a professor in New York; and her sister Vickie, mother to two small boys, has been diagnosed with cancer. Soon Josh is part of the chaotic household, acting as babysitter, confidant, and, eventually, something more, while the women confront their pasts and map out their futures. (From the publisher.)
• Birth—ca. 1969-70
• Raised—Collegeville, Pennsylvania, USA
• Education—B.A., Hopkins University; University of Iowa Writers' Workshop
• Currently—lives in Nantucket, Massachuestts
Elin Hilderbrand is an American writer of Summer beach read romance novels. Her books have been set on and around Nantucket Island where she lives with her husband and three children.
Hilderbrand was born and raised in Collegeville, Pennsylvania. As a child, she spent summers on Cape Cod, "playing touch football at low tide, collecting sea glass, digging pools for hermit crabs, swimming out to the wooden raft off shore," until her father died in a plane crash when she was sixteen. She spent the next summer working—doing piecework in a factory that made Halloween costumes; she promised herself that the goal for the rest of her life would be that she would always have a real summer.
She graduated from Johns Hopkins University and became a teaching/writing fellow at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. In 1993 she moved to Nantucket, took a job as "the classified ads girl" at a local paper, and later started writing.
Her first novels were published by St. Martin's Press. With A Summer Affair, published in 2008, she moved to Little, Brown and Company. (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 7/11/2013.)
Hilderbrand's sixth novel heaps on the trauma as a substitute for realistic connection in this heady mix of beach house, cancer, affair and mom lit. Connecticut housewife Vicki, diagnosed with lung cancer, has packed up her two kids for a chemo-commuting summer at the family's Nantucket cabin; sister Brenda, a newly minted high-powered assistant professor, has just been fired for having an affair with one of her students; Vicki's best friend, Melanie, newly pregnant, has discovered her husband is cheating. The three hit the tarmac of the tiny island airport, where they run into home-for-the-summer Middlebury senior Josh Flynn, who has a summer job there that he hates. Hardened cliché Brenda pines for her stereotypically weathered Australian lover. Melanie is a chronic complainer until she romances grim aspiring writer Josh, whom she has run into again and brought on as the house babysitter. (Josh thinks his old girlfriend should "locate her center" and "operate from a place of security.") Of the three women, only the suffering, stubborn Vicki, who keeps a list of "Things That No Longer Mattered" and cries when she can't seduce her visiting husband, draws readerly sympathy. There are some tender moments in Hilderbrand's latest beacher, but others are as irritating as sand in your swimsuit.
Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket. Hilderbrand's saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she's fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie's husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he's believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki's bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death. Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand's hands it's easy to get lost in the story.
1. Barefoot shifts in perspective between four primary characters: Brenda, Vicki, Melanie and Josh. Which character made the strongest first impression on you? Did you find that your favorite character shifted as the novel progressed?
2. The island of Nantucket plays a distinct and significant role in Elin Hilderbrand's novels. In Barefoot, how does Brenda, Vicki, Melanie's summer escape to the island allow them to more fully realize themselves?
3. Discuss the character of Josh's ex-girlfriend, Didi, in the novel. Ultimately, in what ways does she affect Josh's life and his outlook?
4. Initially Brenda resents Melanie's presence in their small 'Sconset cottage, in part due to Vicki's motivation to include her; as Brenda observes, "But it was also the case that Brenda's company alone had never been enough for Vicki." (pg. 4) How does Melanie's inclusion affect the group dynamic? How does it impact Brenda's relationship with her sister?
5. Josh encounters the advice "Be careful" several times throughout the novel. To what relationships do you think this warning most aptly applies in Barefoot? To what relationships does caution have no bearing?
6. Given that John Walsh is one year older than Brenda, do you feel that Champion University's response to their relationship is justified? Do you think the University's decision is ultimately productive for Brenda?
7. Discuss the role of fatherhood in the novel. Which father— Tom Flynn, Peter Patchen, or Ted Stowe—did you ultimately most admire? What does Josh learn about fatherhood by the summer's end?
8. Discuss Josh's employment as a babysitter and his role in Blaine and Porter's life. Why do you think Josh is so adept at taking care of Vicki's boys?
9. Throughout the novel, Vicki keeps a mental list entitled "Things That No Longer Matter." By the end of the novel, what have Brenda, Vicki and Melanie found matters most to each of them?
10. What does the future hold for Brenda, Vicki and Melanie after the novel's conclusion? How will the birth of Amber affect Melanie and Peter's relationship? How will Vickie cope with her recovery? Can Brenda undertake a new career? Finally, how influential will this summer on Nantucket prove to be in each of their lives?
(Questions issued by publisher.)
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