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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?
Flash back 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.
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Summer #28: 2020
What are we talking about in 2020? Kobe Bryant, Covid-19, social distancing, Zoom, TikTok, Navarro cheerleading, and… The presidential election. A country divided. Opinions on both sides. It's everywhere: on the news, on the late-night shows, in the papers, online, online, online, in cocktail-party conversations, on college campuses, in airports, in line at Starbucks, around the bar at Margaritaville, at the gym (the guy who uses the treadmill at six a.m. sets TV number four to Fox News; the woman who comes in at seven a.m. immediately switches it to MSNBC). Kids stop speaking to parents over it; couples divorce; neighbors feud; consumers boycott; employees quit. Some feel fortunate to be alive at such an exciting time; they turn up the volume, become junkies. Others are sick of it; they press the mute button, they disengage. If one more person asks if they're registered to vote…
Turns out, there's a story this year that no one has heard yet. It's a story that started twenty-eight summers earlier and that only now—in the summer of 2020, on an island thirty miles off the coast—is coming to an end.
The end. Under the circumstances, this feels like the only place to start.
Mallory Blessing tells her son, Link: There's an envelope in the third drawer of the desk. On the left. The one that sticks. They all stick, Link thinks. His mother's cottage sits on a strip of land between ocean and pond; that's the good news. The bad news is…humidity. This is a home where doors don't close properly and towels never dry and if you open a bag of chips, you better eat them all in one sitting because they'll be stale within the hour. Link struggles with the drawer. He has to lift it up and wiggle it side to side in order to get it open.
He sees the envelope alone in the drawer. Written on the front: Please call.
Link is confused. This isn't what he expected. What he expected was his mother's will or a sappy letter filled with sage advice or instructions for her memorial service.
Link opens the envelope. Inside is one thin strip of paper. No name, just a number.
What am I supposed to do with this? he wonders.
Okay, Link thinks. But who will answer? And what is Link supposed to say?
He would ask his mother, but her eyes are closed. She has fallen back to sleep.
Link walks out the back door of the cottage and along the sandy road that runs beside Miacomet Pond. It's June on Nantucket—sunny and sixty-seven degrees, so the nights and early mornings are still chilly, although the irises are blooming among the reeds and there's a pair of swans on the flat blue mirror of the pond.
Swans mate for life, Link thinks. This has always made them seem morally superior to other birds, although somewhere he read that swans cheat. He hopes that was an internet hoax.
Like most kids who were born and raised on this island, he's guilty of taking the scenery for granted. Link has also been guilty of taking his mother for granted, and now she's dying at the age of fifty-one. The melanoma has metastasized to her brain; she's blind in one eye. Her hospice care will start in the morning.
Link broke down crying when Dr. Symon talked to him, then again when he called Nantucket Hospice.
The RN case manager, Sabina, had a soothing manner. She encouraged Link to be present in each moment with his mother "through her transition." This was in response to Link confessing that he didn't know what he was going to do without her.
"I'm only nineteen," he said.
"Worry about later, later," Sabina said. "Your job now is to be with your mother. Let her feel your love. She'll take it with her where she's going."
Link punches the number on the strip of paper into his phone. It's an unfamiliar area code—notably not 206, Seattle, where his father lives. He can't imagine who this is. Link's grandparents are dead, and his uncle Cooper lives in DC. Coop and his wife, Amy, are splitting; it's his uncle's fifth divorce. Last week, when Mallory still had moments of clarity and humor, she said, Coop gets married and divorced the way most people eat Triscuits. Coop has offered to come up when it gets to be too much for Link to handle alone. This will be soon, maybe even tomorrow.
Does his mother have any other friends off-island? She stopped speaking to Leland when Link was in high school. She's dead to me.
Maybe this is Leland's new number. That would make sense; they should make peace before the end.
But a man answers the phone.
"Jake McCloud," he says.
It takes Link a second to process this. Jake McCloud?
He hangs up.
He's so startled that he laughs, then glances at the back door of their cottage. Is this a joke? His mother has a sense of humor, certainly, but she's witty, not prone to pranks. Asking Link to call Jake McCloud on her deathbed just isn't something Mallory would do.
There must be an explanation. Link checks the number on the piece of paper against the number in his phone, then he looks up the area code, 574. It's Indiana—Mishawaka, Elkhart, South Bend.
Link cackles. He sounds crazy. What is going on here?
Just then, his phone rings. It's the 574 number, calling back. Link is tempted to let the call go to voicemail. There has been a tremendous mistake. In all of his interviews, Jake McCloud seems like an extremely decent guy. Link could just explain the situation: His mother is dying and somehow Jake McCloud's number ended up in his mother's desk drawer.
"Hello?" Link says.
"Hello, this is Jake McCloud. Someone from this number called me?"
"Yes," Link says, trying to sound professional. Who knows; maybe Link can use this weird misunderstanding to get an internship with Jake McCloud—or with Ursula de Gournsey! "Sorry about that, I think it was a mistake. My mother, Mallory Blessing—"
"Mallory?" Jake McCloud says. "What is it? Is everything okay?"
Link focuses on the swans gliding along, regal in their bearing, king and queen of the pond. "I'm sorry," Link says. "This is Jake McCloud, right? The Jake McCloud, the one whose wife…"
Link shakes his head. "Do you know my mother? Mallory Blessing? She's an English teacher on Nantucket Island?"
"Is everything okay?" Jake McCloud asks again. "There must be a reason you're calling."
"There is a reason," Link says. "She left me your number in an envelope and asked me to contact you." Link pauses. "She's dying."
"She has cancer, melanoma that metastasized to her brain. I've called hospice." These words are painful to say, and Link can't help but feel he's throwing them away. Why would Jake McCloud care?
There's silence on the other end, and all Link can imagine is Jake McCloud realizing that he has taken a call meant for someone else and wondering how to gracefully extricate himself.
"Please tell Mal…" Jake McCloud says.
Mal? Link thinks. Does Jake McCloud, who has a better than decent chance of becoming the First Gentleman of the United States, somehow know Link's mother?
"Tell her…that I'll be there as soon as I can," Jake says. "Tell her to hold on." He clears his throat. "Please. Tell her I'm coming."
Summer #1: 1993
What are we talking about in 1993? Waco, Texas; the World Trade Center bombing; Arthur Ashe; R.E.M.; Lorena Bobbitt; Robert Redford, Woody Harrelson, and Demi Moore; NAFTA; River Phoenix; the EU; Got Milk?; NordicTrack; Rabin and Arafat; Monica Seles; Sleepless in Seattle; the World Wide Web; the Buffalo Bills losing the Super Bowl for the third straight time; Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer; Whitney Houston singing "I Will Always Love You."
When we first meet our girl Mallory Blessing (and make no mistake, Mallory is our girl; we're with her here through the good, the bad, and the damn-near hopeless), she's twenty-four years old, living on the Upper East Side of New York with her very best friend in the whole word, Leland Gladstone, whom she's starting to despise a little more each day. They're renting a fifth-floor walk-up in a building with a French restaurant on the ground level, and during the week, the line cooks give Leland the duck confit and lamb shank they have left over at the end of service. Leland never offers to share her culinary windfall with Mallory; she accepts it as her due because she found the apartment, she negotiated the lease, and she made seventeen visits to ABC Home for furniture. The only reason Mallory is living in New York at all is that Leland made an offhand comment (while drunk) that she might want a roommate, and Mallory was so desperate to get out of her parents' house in Baltimore that she misconstrued this as a full-blown invitation. Mallory pays one-third of the rent (even that amount is so astronomical that Mallory's parents are footing the bill), and in exchange, Mallory sleeps on a futon in a corner of the living room. Leland bought a faux-Chinese screen that Mallory can put up for privacy, though she rarely bothers. This sparks the first argument. Turns out, Leland bought the screen not so Mallory can have privacy but so Leland doesn't have to see Mallory reading novels while all wrapped up in the hideous calico-print comforter from her childhood bedroom.
It's…unseemly, Leland says. How about some self-respect?
The issue of the screen causes only minor friction compared to the issue of the job. Leland moved to New York to work in fashion—her dream was to "do creative" at Harper's Bazaar—and when Leland told Mallory about an opening for an editorial assistant at Bard and Scribe, the hottest literary magazine in the city, Mallory immediately applied. The mere prospect of such a job transformed Mallory's idea of what New York might be like for her. If she became an editorial assistant at Bard and Scribe, she would make new, artsy, bohemian friends and embark on a fascinating life. Little did Mallory know that Leland had already applied for the job herself. Leland was granted an interview, then a second interview, and then she was offered the job, which she snapped up while Mallory looked on, silently aghast and yet not at all surprised. If New York were a dress, it would fit Leland better, whereas Mallory would always be tugging and adjusting in an attempt to become more comfortable.
Now, every morning, Leland heads to the Bard and Scribe office, which is housed in an airy loft in SoHo complete with a rooftop garden where they throw chic soirées for people like Carolyn Heilbrun, Ellen Gilchrist, Dorothy Allison. Mallory, meanwhile, works as a receptionist at a headhunting firm, a job she was offered because her own "career consultant" felt sorry for her.
However, on May 16, 1993, Mallory receives the phone call that changes her life.
It's a Sunday, eleven thirty in the morning. Mallory went for a run in Central Park, then stopped for a coffee and a sesame bagel with scallion cream cheese, and she is ecstatic to come home and find the apartment empty. This happens only in small bites—on the rare occasion when Mallory gets home from work before Leland or leaves after her—and the sense of freedom is mind-altering. Mallory can pretend that she's the lady of the manor instead of a 1990s-Manhattan version of Sara Crewe, living in the garret without coal for a fire. On the morning of May 16, Leland is at Elephant and Castle, having brunch with her new Bard and Scribe friends. She faux-generously extended an invitation to Mallory, knowing Mallory would decline because she couldn't afford it.
The phone rings, and before answering it, Mallory goes to the stereo to turn down "Everybody Hurts," by R.E.M., which she has on repeat. It's her favorite song that year, though she's forbidden to play it when Leland is home because, for Leland, Michael Stipe's keening is nails on a chalkboard.
Mallory drops into one of the chic but uncomfortable café chairs that Leland purchased at ABC Home. It's Mallory's father. Realistically, it was only going to be one of a handful of people: her parents; her brother, Cooper; her ex-boyfriend Willis, who is teaching English on the island of Borneo (he calls Mallory on Sundays, when international rates are lowest, to brag about his exotic new life); or Leland, saying she forgot her ATM card and would Mallory please get on the subway and bring it to her?
"Hi, Dad," Mallory says, her voice barely concealing how underwhelmed she is. Even hearing Willis talk about Komodo dragons would have been better.
"Honey?" her father says. He sounds so dejected that Mallory perks up in response. Mallory's father, Cooper Blessing Sr.—referred to by Mallory and her brother as simply "Senior"—is a CPA who owns four H&R Block franchises in greater Baltimore. As one might expect from such a man, his manner is reserved. He may be the only person in the history of the world born without emotions. But now his tone is heavy with something. Has someone died? Her mother? Her brother?
No, she decides. If something had happened to her mother, her brother would have called. If something had happened to her brother, her mother would have called.
Still, Mallory has a strange feeling. "Did someone die?" she asks. "Dad?"
"Yes," Senior says. "Your aunt Greta. Greta died on…Friday, apparently. I found out only an hour ago. Greta's attorney called. I guess she left you something."
Do things like this happen in real life? Obviously they do. Mallory's aunt Greta had had a massive coronary. She was at home in Cambridge on Friday evening making pasta puttanesca from The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook with her "housemate," Ruthie. (Housemate is Senior's word, as though Greta and Ruthie were two Gen Xers on The Real World.) The detail about the puttanesca is one that Mallory supplies from her own imagination because she has visited Greta and Ruthie at the house in Cambridge for weekends often and knows that Friday evenings they cook at home, Saturdays are for museums followed by dinner out and sometimes the theater, and Sundays are for bagels and the Times, then Chinese food for dinner while watching an old movie on TV. Ruthie called the paramedics, but there was nothing they could do. Greta was gone.
Ruthie arranged for Greta to be cremated and contacted their attorney, a woman named Eileen Beers. It was Eileen Beers who called Senior. Senior and Greta had been estranged for ten years, which was how long it had been since Uncle Bo passed and Aunt Greta moved in with a Radcliffe colleague, Dr. Ruth Harlowe, who was more than just a housemate. Eileen Beers informed Senior that Greta had bequeathed to Mallory the startling sum of a hundred thousand dollars and her cottage on Nantucket.
Mallory starts to cry. Mallory alone in the family had maintained a relationship with Greta after Uncle Bo died. She wrote letters each month and secretly called every Christmas; she invited Greta to her college graduation over her parents' objections; she had ridden four hours on the bus to spend those perfect weekends in Cambridge.
"Is this real?" Mallory asks Senior. "Greta is dead? She left me money and the cottage? The money and the cottage are mine? Like, mine-mine?" Mallory doesn't want to sound like she cares more about the money and the cottage than about her aunt's passing. But she also can't ignore what might be a life-changing reversal of fortune.
"Yes," Senior says.
When Leland returns from brunch, she has a Bellini glow; her skin actually appears peachy beneath the asymmetrical bangs of her new haircut. It takes Leland a moment to process what Mallory is telling her: After Mallory gives proper notice to the headhunting firm, she's moving out. She's going to Nantucket.
"I still don't understand why you would leave the center of the civilized world to live on an island thirty miles off the coast," Leland says.
It's now two weeks later, Sunday, May 30. Leland is treating Mallory to a bon voyage brunch at the Coconut Grill on Seventy-Seventh Street. They're sitting at an outdoor table on the sidewalk in the broiling sun so that they can be properly observed by the boys with popped collars and Ray-Ban aviators who are on their way to J. G. Melon's for burgers and Bloody Marys. One such specimen—in a mint-green Lacoste—lowers his shades an inch so he can check out Leland. He looks like the Preppy Killer.
Leland sounds perplexed and also sad. The announcement of Mallory's imminent departure promptly restored love and affection between the two friends. Over the past two weeks, Leland has been sweet. She not only tolerates the sight of Mallory's messy bedding, she sits on the edge of the futon for long, gossipy conversations. And Mallory can absorb the changes taking place in her friend—the edgy haircut for starters, the leather jacket purchased for a whopping nine hundred dollars at Trash and Vaudeville, the switch from Bartles and Jaymes wine coolers to proper bottles of Russian River chardonnay—without feeling resentful or left behind.
Mallory and Leland will miss each other. They've been friends since before memory, having grown up three houses apart on Deepdene Road in the Roland Park neighborhood of Baltimore. Their childhood years had been idyllic: they biked to Eddie's Market for jawbreakers; they listened to the Grease soundtrack on Leland's turntable, stuffing their training bras with rolled-up socks and singing into hairbrushes; they sat in the Gladstones' hot tub on snowy nights; they watched General Hospital after school in Leland's rec room, playing hands of spit on the shag rug during commercials. They had been perfect angels until high school, when their shenanigans started. Leland's father, Steve Gladstone, bought a convertible Saab when the girls were seniors. Leland had taken it without permission, swung over to Mallory's house in the middle of the night, and thrown pebbles at Mallory's bedroom window until Mallory agreed to go for a joyride. They'd put the top down and driven all the way to the Inner Harbor with the cassette player blasting Yaz's Upstairs at Eric's. They were caught, of course. When they arrived back to Deepdene Road, their hair blown crazy from the wind, all four of their parents were standing in the Gladstones' driveway.
We're not angry, they said. (This must have been Steve Gladstone's influence; he was the most lenient of the four.) We're disappointed.
Mallory had been grounded for two weeks, she remembers. Leland had been grounded too, but she got out of it after three days.
"I need to try something different," Mallory says now as she dunks a sweet potato fry into the maple dipping sauce. "Set out on my own." Besides, the center of the civilized world is already a cauldron, and it's not even June; the concrete is baking, the trash can on the corner stinks, and there's no place less hospitable than the platform of the 6 train. Who wouldn't want to be headed to Nantucket for the summer? Or for forever?
Six weeks later when Mallory's brother, Cooper, calls to say that he has proposed to Krystel Bethune, his girlfriend of three months, and they will be getting married at Christmas, Mallory is so intoxicated with her new island life that she forgets to be properly shocked.
"That's great!" Mallory says.
"Aren't you going to ask if I knocked her up?" Cooper says.
"Did you knock her up?"
"No," Cooper says. "I'm just madly in love and I know I want to spend the rest of my life with Krystel, so I figure, why wait? Let's get married as soon as we can. Within reason. I mean, I don't want to elope. Senior and Kitty would kill me. As it is, they aren't too happy."
"Right," Mallory says. "How'd you two meet again?"
"Krystel was my waitress," Cooper says. "At the Old Ebbitt Grill."
"Nothing wrong with being a waitress," Mallory says. Mallory is waitressing herself at the Summer House pool out in Sconset three days a week. "Did she go to college? Like, at all?"
"She went to UMBC for a while," Cooper says.
That's vague, Mallory thinks. A while meaning a few semesters or a few weeks? It doesn't matter. Mallory won't judge; they have their mother for that. Kitty Blessing is downright obsessed with education, breeding, social standing.
"You're getting married at Christmas," Mallory says. This is a phenomenon she has never understood—Christmas is already so busy, frantic, and filled with angst; why make it worse?—but again, she won't judge. "Where will it be?"
"In Baltimore," Cooper says. "Krystel's mother has no money and her father isn't in the picture."
Mallory tries to imagine her mother's reaction to this news. Kitty has lost the war but won a crucial battle. Krystel's family is a disappointment, so there will be no dynasty-building. However, that means Kitty will have no competition in planning the wedding. She'll insist on tasteful Christmas (white lights, burgundy velvet bows, Handel's Messiah) rather than tacky Christmas (elves, candy canes, "Jingle Bells").
"I'm happy for you, Coop," Mallory says. For what might be the first time in her life, she's telling the truth about this. For all of her twenty-four years, Mallory has suffered from a chronic case of sibling envy. Cooper is the golden child to Mallory's silver. He's the chocolate chip cookie to her oatmeal-raisin, which people like, just never quite as much.
"So now's the part where I ask you a favor," Cooper says.
"Oh," Mallory says. He wants a favor from her? This is new. Cooper is a policy wonk for the Brookings Institution, a think tank in DC. His job is important, prestigious even (though Mallory's not going to pretend she understands what he actually does). What could he possibly need from her? "Anything for you, you know that."
"I'd like to have a bachelor…well, not a party per se, but a weekend. Nothing crazy, just me, Fray, obviously, and Jake McCloud."
Fray, obviously, Mallory thinks, and she rolls her eyes. And Jake McCloud, the mysterious Jake McCloud, Cooper's big brother in his fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta—Fiji—whom Mallory has never actually met. She's had some intriguing phone conversations with him, however.
"Oh yeah?" she says.
"And I was thinking maybe I could do it there on Nantucket over Labor Day weekend?" He pauses. "If you don't mind three guys crashing on the sofa…or the floor…wherever."
"I have two spare bedrooms," Mallory says.
"You do?" Cooper says. "So it's, like, a real house? I always got the impression it was more like, I don't know, a shack?"
"It's not a house-house but it's better than a shack," Mallory says. "You'll see when you get here."
"So it's okay, then?" Cooper says. "Labor Day weekend?"
"Sure," she says. Labor Day weekend, she thinks, is when Leland said she might come, but those plans are tentative at best. "Mi casa es su casa."
"Thanks, Mal!" Cooper says. He sounds excited and grateful, and after she hangs up, Mallory runs her hands over the worn-smooth boards of the deck and thinks about how good it feels to finally have something worth sharing.
- "Summer on Hilderbrand's Nantucket is never dull. This time she focuses on former lovers who now lead separate lives but share an island idyll once a year. Captivating and bittersweet."—People
- "This sweeping love story is Hilderbrand's best ever. . . Her stories are relatable in an aspirational way, but her attention to detail is what makes her characters feel like living, breathing people you want to know. They would never skimp on citronella candles; they would save the least creaky rocking chair for you."—Elisabeth Egan, New York Times Book Review
- "Hilderbrand steers this tightly written novel with ease and skill. . . . Less a story about a secretive affair and more a tale of sweet nostalgia and fate, this title will be popular with a wide audience."—Library Journal
- "In her 25th novel, Hilderbrand gets everything right and leaves her ardent fans hungry for No. 26. Hilderbrand sets the gold standard in escapist fiction."—Kirkus Reviews
- Praise for Summer of '69:
- "Superb...Hilderbrand hits all the right notes about life in a tightly knit family, and this crowd-pleaser is sure to satisfy both her fans and newcomers alike."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
- "HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Hilderbrand's first foray into historical fiction will rouse curiosity in new readers as well as devotees of her annual summer smashes."—Susan Maguire, Booklist
"Hilderbrand's characters are utterly convincing and immediately draw us into their problems, from petty to grave...To use the parlance of the period, a highly relevant retrospective."
- Praise for The Perfect Couple:
"A quintessential summer read."
- "One of this summer's must-reads that is all at once quick paced, compulsively readable, and thought provoking. An entertaining yet observant look at the surprising secrets that can fester and erupt in marriage."—Patriot-Ledger
- "Elin Hilderbrand's fans can expect a twist on the beach this summer with her new book"—CBS News
- "a sizzling summer read fans won't want to miss"—Bustle
- "The Perfect Couple proves that Elin Hilderbrand is the queen of the summer beach read"—WFMY News 2
Praise for THE IDENTICALS:
"A sun-drenched treat."
—Kim Hubbard, People
"Another Hilderbrand beach hit."
—Jocelyn McClurg, USA Today, 10 Hot Books You Won't Want to Miss This Summer
"Engaging family relationships mixed with vivid landscape descriptions create an effortless read."
- "I was captivated. I finished it in a day...I longed to stay forever in fake-real Nantucket with Tabitha and Harper and Eleanor and Ainsley."—Sam Anderson, New York Times Magazine
- "Hilderbrand is the queen of the smart beach read, and her latest is no exception."—Entertainment Weekly
- On Sale
- Feb 9, 2021
- Page Count
- 448 pages
- Back Bay Books