Love is a complicated feeling that, at the best of times, is indescribable. It can strike like an angry snake leaving you wounded and scarred forever, immerse you in its warm embrace, or take you on a long journey where you feel lost and unfulfilled. So is it all worth it then? It’s easy for many people to fall in and out of love, but to have a relationship that anchors you throughout your life can be ineffable.
That’s the setup Elin Hilderbrand, bestselling author of Summer of ‘69 and What Happens in Paradise, explores in 28 Summers, a superficial look at love and all its complications.
After graduating from university, Mallory Blessing follows her best friend to New York, both of which she starts to despise a little more every day. One day she learns her beloved Aunt Greta has passed, leaving money and her cottage in Nantucket (we should all be so lucky). Her life changes one summer when her brother, Coop, wants to visit over Labor Day weekend with his best friends – Fray and Jake. The plot thickens when Mallory and Jake experience sparks and he promises to come back “same time, next year” without her brother, of course.
The one significant thing about their relationship is that it’s uncomplicated and routine. Jake arrives in Nantucket on Friday, they have a great time together, and he leaves Monday. Throughout the entire year, there are no messages, voicemails or texts – nothing to indicate the ‘magic’ that transpires every time during Labor Day weekend. Both are available to date other people but somehow, when that long weekend comes around in September, they put in the effort to see one another, regardless of obligations – familial or otherwise.
Their love blooms through this tradition and there aren’t any arguments one would see when couples get together. Mainly because they aren’t together long enough to see each other’s bad sides. Their fairytale relationship is juxtaposed against the failing relationships around them – Coop’s three marriages that fall apart within moments, Jake’s own tumultuous relationship with his workaholic girlfriend Ursula, and her best friend’s parents’ scandalous divorce. Through it all, Mallory and Jake maintain their annual meetup.
But, the deeper Mallory and Jake’s relationship becomes, the more torturous it feels when Mallory comes face-to-face with Ursula at her brother’s second wedding. Watching your lover while they’re dancing with their girlfriend is like skinning yourself with a vegetable peeler; a slow and painful death but Mallory doesn’t do anything other than get drunk. In this way, Hilderbrand does an amazing job of having her main characters be passive throughout their lives, always allowing others to make the hard decisions for them.
28 Summers is a monotonous read that takes you through the roller coaster situations of love, or what Elin Hilderbrand seems to think love is, anyway. It’s infuriating when you see two people who would be perfect for one another yet neither of them takes the leap to make a full commitment to each other. Their only commitment is their Labor Day weekend visits. So what does that even say about their relationship? Are they actually in love then? Perhaps Mallory and Jake had the perfect arrangement. Perhaps society has the wrong ideas of what love and commitment mean. Who knows? Maybe. It’s complicated.