Maybe some day I’ll be able to define what it is that makes fiction really come alive for me. It’s probably different for each reader and each reading of a book. But for now, let’s just say it’s that phenomenon whereby you forget that you’re reading and actually plunge into the fiction. For instance, I’ve been struggling with Love in the Time of Cholera which my menfolk adore, and I just cannot get past Gabriel García Márquez’ storytelling method. I am not absorbed into the story. So that’s one measure of quality in my eyes: whether or not the fiction draw you in, away from your own world. But here’s another: does the writer meet his or her goals? If the book is a thriller, does it thrill? If it’s a novel of ideas, does it make you think?
I’m not going to try to put Silver Girl into a category, though loosely, I suppose, it’s chick-lit. Or women’s fiction. Or a great beach read. (It is, by the way, a fabulous beach read, complete with many scenes of beaches.) Elin Hilderbrand has written a clutch of novels set on Nantucket that seem to fit into those categories. However you want to define it, Silver Girl works. For one thing, it has a great, catchy premise: the main protagonist is Meredith Martin Delinn, recognizably modeled on Ruth Madoff.
The novel opens as Meredith and her best-friend-from-childhood Connie drive to Connie’s house on Nantucket. Meredith has had to flee her Park Avenue apartment because it looks like the Feds may come after her. Her husband Freddy is in jail, having been sentenced to 150 years for running a massive Ponzi scheme, and the Feds see Meredith as possibly complicit. The media is camped out in front of her building. She cannot even talk to her two grown sons, because they are also under suspicion of involvement. Connie was Meredith’s last hope. And though there’s bad blood between them, Connie agrees to rescue her old friend.
What’s impressive is the way Hilderbrand fleshes out the story, employing the basic Madoff skeleton but supplying the rest of the details herself. Since this is a novel about old friendship, there is of course a back story, which she sets plausibly in prosperous Catholic Maine Line Philadelphia. She gives the readers plenty of details of the lush Delinn/Madoff life but stresses the true appeal of the simple things: a shower. A bike ride. A good night’s sleep. She leaves the crook Freddy a complete cipher, which works very well. And by alternating points of view between the two old friends, she has plenty of room to mull over the trajectory of a long friendship which naturally includes its share of hurt.
OK, what else? Good dialogue. Romance: predictable but satisfying. Nice pacing, with new conflicts appearing just when they need to. Emotional life-affirming and, yes, weepy-but-in-a-good-way ending. So, yeah, this is a post about how I couldn’t get through the Nobel-Prize winner’s masterpiece. And instead I’m telling you to take Silver Girl to the beach and get sunscreen on it and have a great time!