Sunday, June 16, 2013

Island Girls

Island Girls
by Nancy Thayer
Published by Ballantine
320 pages
Genre: chick lit
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
3 / 5

Rory Randall was quite the ladies' man when he was alive. He wound up with three wives and three daughters, one from each marriage. When he died, the three daughters discover that his will has one important stipulation: if you want your inheritance, you will spend the summer together in his Cape Cod home.

If this sounds similar to The Summer Girls, that's because they share a similar premise. But that's where the likenesses end.

Arden, the eldest daughter, is a New York based hostess of a television show about simplifying your life. Oh, the irony. She is unattached, and not too bothered by it. What does rankle is a young woman hired to co-host the show with her. Paging All About Eve! She gamely heads to the Cape, certain that she will secure future segments for the show and thus prove her worth.

A community college professor, Meg looks forward to spending the summer on the island, believing that the relative isolation will help her complete a manuscript on the life of May Alcott, Louisa's younger sister. She's also hoping for some clarity regarding a potential romance with a fellow faculty member.

The baby of the family, Jenny, has lived in the home that her sisters come to visit. She never truly felt a part of them, even though she and Meg are the same age. Rory left Meg's mother for Jenny's and adopted Jenny, making her not biologically his. It did not affect his feelings for her, though; it's clear that Rory loved Jenny as much as he loved his other two daughters.

Arden and Meg are returning to the Cape after the summer they refer to as The Exile, during which they were banished from the summer home thanks to a transgression Arden is accused of committing. Both women harbor some resentment, against Jenny and each other. The three sisters require considerable healing in order to broach a rapprochement.

The premise here is very solid. Three women, three different mothers - all of whom are very much alive - coming to terms with a father two of them did not know all that well and who had no role in the life of the third until she was nearly ten. There is quite a bit of accumulated animosity between the three, and each has a lot of work to do on herself.

At various times, none of them are all that fabulous. Arden is bitchy, Meg judgmental, and Jenny defensive. And then sometimes they switch, with Meg defensive, Arden judgmental, and Jenny bitchy. Like I said - there is a lot of work to be done.

While the sisters are interesting and intriguing, we also get in the heads of Jenny's mother, and that's where the story becomes muddled. You wonder why only Jenny's mother and not the other two, yet you also wonder why we need Jenny's mother at all. Another issue is that introducing this fourth point of view reveals the central weakness of the book: we don't really get to know Rory or his wives. We see all of them through the sisters' eyes, and perhaps that's the point. No one's recollection is entirely reliable, which ought to tell the sisters that they should not necessarily trust their own version of events. But you are left wondering about those four people, and you sense that knowing them better would enhance your understanding of the sisters.

The plot resolutions come too easily, especially given the complexities at play. You feel a bit cheated, especially since this is not a very lengthy book. It would have been better served by more background on the mothers and Rory and certainly by tougher struggles for the sisters to work things out.

Still, though, it's entertaining. Perhaps its lightness is a good thing, actually. Its lack of depth makes it a fine summer beach read.

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