Golden Girl is Elin Hilderbrand’s 27th novel, an especially astonishing number considering that she explores the same rich terrain of Nantucket and the surrounding areas in almost every one of her books. A reader might be wary of the author becoming formulaic, but Golden Girl is surprising, delightful and—dare I say?—quirky.
Vivi Howe is a Nantucket-based novelist who has found significant commercial success even as critical acclaim eludes her. “Vivi had legions of loyal readers, but she’d never quite captured the interest of the serious reviewers,” Hilderbrand writes. “They had called her first novel, The Dune Daughters, ‘three hundred pages of word salad.’” Vivi is on the verge of tasting the adoration of critics for the first time when she’s struck and killed by a car while jogging.
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Killing off the main character just a few pages into a book is somewhat unorthodox, but it’s just the first of many interesting choices Hilderbrand makes. The next twist is that Vivi’s Hermès scarf-wearing guardian angel grants her a 75-day window to watch the aftermath from a perch above. Vivi is also allowed to use three “nudges” to influence the outcome of events.
The remainder of Golden Girl explores what happens to the family and friends left behind, as fragile bonds are tested and long-buried secrets come to light. Vivi’s three children deal with grief in different yet equally destructive ways, while her ex-husband questions his decision to leave Vivi for a much younger woman years before.
The book is filled with Hilderbrand’s trademark gorgeous scenes and delicious dialogue. But Golden Girl also explores the author’s own place in the literary pantheon, often with a wink and a nod to the reader. In one scene, as Vivi is watching an interaction and wondering whether to use a nudge, she says, “I’m the novelist here. . . . Let’s give it another couple of chapters.”
Like Vivi, Hilderbrand is commercially successful but doesn’t always get her due as an immensely talented writer. Golden Girl will help change that. It is funny and heartbreaking, and even though it’s in some ways a departure for Hilderbrand, the novel still offers plenty of that Nantucket air to keep you turning pages.