by Elin Hilderbrand
Publication: Little, Brown, and Company; June 16, 2020
When Mallory Blessing’s son, Link, receives deathbed instructions from his mother to call a number on a slip of paper in her desk drawer, he’s not sure what to expect. But he certainly does not expect Jake McCloud to answer. It’s the late spring of 2020 and Jake’s wife, Ursula DeGournsey, is the frontrunner in the upcoming Presidential election.
There must be a mistake, Link thinks. How do Mallory and Jake know each other?
Flashback to the sweet summer of 1993: Mallory has just inherited a beachfront cottage on Nantucket from her aunt, and she agrees to host her brother’s bachelor party. Cooper’s friend from college, Jake McCloud, attends, and Jake and Mallory form a bond that will persevere — through marriage, children, and Ursula’s stratospheric political rise — until Mallory learns she’s dying.
Based on the classic film Same Time Next Year (which Mallory and Jake watch every summer), 28 Summers explores the agony and romance of a one-weekend-per-year affair and the dramatic ways this relationship complicates and enriches their lives, and the lives of the people they love.
I am a pretty big fan of Elin Hilderbrand. When I think of her novels, I typically think of escape/summer/beach-reads. 28 Summers is somewhat different. This is about Mallory Blessing and Jake McCloud and their decades-long love affair where they meet once a year for Labor Day weekend. The prologue is set in 2020 when Mallory is dying and tells her son to find a paper in her desk and call the number. Then the meat of the novel starts in 1993 when Mallory is living miserably in New York with a childhood friend until she finds out that a family member has passed and left her a cottage on Nantucket. Not long after she gets settled in, her brother Cooper brings a couple of friends up for a bachelor party weekend, where Mallory and Jake meet. After their wonderful weekend together, they decide that they will get together at the cottage every year for Labor Day weekend, no matter what.
There’s a lot to go over here, so bear with me. Also, based on other reviews, I don’t think my opinions will be very popular.
I’ll start with the characters. There is Mallory who is beautiful, bright, charismatic, and independent. Jake is immediately drawn to her and honestly, so was I. Jake was also instantly charming with his good looks and easy conversation and banter. Mallory’s brother Cooper, I really don’t know what to say. I think he got married like 5 times in the book. Cooper and Jake’s friend, Fray seemed o.k. initially but changed. But overall, I think this is probably the biggest group of unlikable characters that I have seen in a book, especially when it came to Leland and Ursula. Mallory started out with such great potential, but then spent decades dropping everything for one weekend with Jake while breaking hearts the rest of the year with a variety of boyfriends and/or lovers. There was so much lying and so little self-worth on her part, that I just could not like her. My feelings for Jake also continued on a downward spiral as I read. Why was he so spineless? His wife basically emotionally bullied him for decades yet he said nothing and did nothing. His character had such potential in the beginning and although he never seemed unkind, per se, it was just hard to maintain any positive feelings about him.
Normally I am a fan of Hilderbrand’s writing style, but 28 Summers confused me. I did not understand the narration at all and it was inconsistent throughout the novel. The first few chapters contain an unknown narrator referring to Mallory as “our girl” and in another chapter referring to Jake as “our boy.” Who was saying this? It happens a few times and then switches to Mallory or Jake’s point of view. I’m not a fan of anything other than first-person POV but second or third is fine as long as it makes sense.
But my biggest issues were the plot itself. It is never really explained why they decide to do the “same time next year” thing. They are both single at the time this all starts. So why exactly does Jake continue to move forward with Ursula rather than standing up for himself and heading off to be with Mallory? Was it money? Family expectations? Why? That drove me crazy because I kept wondering if there would be some big revelation other than Jake’s refusal to speak up for himself.
The worst part of this, however, was the politics.
Every year has some sort of political thing mixed in, even a fictionalized version of the Kavanaugh case. A woman is running for President, a family is divided because Mallory’s Aunt fell in love with a woman, and I don’t even remember what else because I skimmed over most of those parts. Why throw so much political filler into what could have been a nice, relaxing read? I love that she has a female character running for President, but why did she have to be a lying, backstabbing, shady, and adulteress woman? And why did Jake and their daughter have to be cast as this miserable, obedient family that bows down to the woman running for President?
As you can see, this is not my favorite novel by Elin Hildebrand. However, many reviews are very positive so check it out for yourself. There were just too many inconsistencies, unlikeable characters, and far too much politics for what I consider an enjoyable women’s fiction novel.
*Thanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown, & Company for providing this review copy in exchange for my honest opinion!