Saturday, April 13, 2024

Reading Outside Your Usual Genre Can Deliver Surprises


Scott D. Parker

In his newsletter this week, author Rob Hart gave some recent recommendations, including one outside of his typical genre. I concur but mere days earlier, I had done the same thing.

To quote a wise man, I have taken my first step into a larger world.

How It Started

My wife has read nearly every book Elin Hilderbrand has written. Back five, six years ago, I even created a list on my phone with the books we had so that if I found myself at a bookstore and I happened upon one of her books, I knew which ones we owned. Heck, we even went to an event where we got to meet her and get her autograph.

Recently, I checked out Hilderbrand’s latest, The Five-Star Weekend, from the library and, predictably, my wife flew through the pages. A couple of Fridays ago, she put it on the kitchen table, a signal for me to return the book to the library. For whatever reason, I picked up the book and read the description on the dust jacket. 

The Five-Star Weekend tells the story of a middle-aged widow, Hollis, who, as a means of moving on from her husband’s death the previous December, invites four women to her home on Nantucket Island for a weekend of curated food, wine, activities, and more wine. The catch is that she invites women who represent certain phases of her life. Tatum from childhood, Dru-Ann from college, Brooke from when they both were new moms in their thirties, and Gigi, a woman Hollis knows (but has never met in real life) via Hollis’s cooking blog. To document everything, Hollis hires her daughter, a film student, to create a documentary (and hopefully break down the wall that stands between them). 

Now, having read the dust jacket, I was intrigued. I opened the first page to see how it started.

Twenty-nine pages later, I walked into the next room, book in hand, and said, “I am in!”

The Relatable Characters

I’ll admit that one of the reasons I locked into this story was that the characters were my age. I even laughed out loud when, in chapter one, Hilderbrand mentions Hollis was part of the high school Class of 1987. That’s me. 

I saw aspects of myself in each character. I related to Tatum’s down-to-earth outlook on life. I lamented when Dru-Ann’s character experienced manufactured outrage that was completely false. I sometimes experience the imposter syndrome Brooke feels (don’t we all?), and I look at certain groups and pine to join them like Gigi. I also understood how each woman views the others. 

As you would imagine, each woman has things to hide and each woman has thoughts about the others and, over the course of a long weekend, it all spills out.

The bottom line: even though it’s a work of fiction, these five women are real people. And I really enjoyed spending time with them.

Effortless Reading

My wife loves Hilderbrand’s books because they are so easy to get into and read. I concur.

I ended up checking out the audiobook from the library as well so I was able to listen on my commutes and when doing yard work and read the hardcopy at night. Having the book in hand helped me see how Hilderbrand actually crafted her writing.

She changes points of view often, almost paragraph by paragraph if more than one character is in the given scene. She also writes in present tense, which gives the book an immediacy, especially when she writes phrases like “Brooke was thinking…[this]” and “Hollis was thinking…[that].” 

Loved it. As a writer who tends to write any given scene from the POV of a singular character, it was engrossing to be in the heads of all five characters, six when you include the daughter. 

The pages just flew by and I was completely enthralled with this story. Given last week’s post about books that pack an emotional punch, I’ll have to include The Five-Star Weekend in the list. While I got misty when it came to what happened to the characters, I really got the point where I didn’t want the fictional weekend—or the actual book—to end.

Readers of a Certain Age

The Five-Star Weekend asks questions of its characters and, by extension, its readers as well, but it clearly comes down on the side of friendship. They are special—at every phrase of our lives—and they need attention and cultivation and should never be taken for granted. This is a good thing for younger readers to understand but it’s also a gentle reminder for older readers as well. You know that friend you haven’t spoken to in years? Give them a call and catch up. You’ll be so glad you did.

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