Hilderbrand’s latest Nantucket heroine has a very particular kind of clairvoyance: She can always tell whether a couple is compatible or not.
Dabney Kimball Beech, 49, who heads up Nantucket’s Chamber of Commerce, is known for her headband, pearls, penny loafers and other preppy accoutrements, as well as her fabulous menus for tailgates and picnics. Then there's her track record of spotting perfect matches: If a couple is suited, she sees pink around them; if not, green. So far, her unerring intuition, augmented by artful introductions, has resulted in more than 40 long-term Nantucket marriages. As the wife of John Boxmiller Beech, aka Box, a Harvard economics professor who's frequently summoned to the Oval Office and whose benchmark textbook nets about $3 million a year, Dabney’s domestic life is serene—except that she's never gotten over her high school sweetheart, Clendenin "Clen" Hughes, a Pulitzer-winning journalist whose beat has been, until recently, Southeast Asia. Due to a childhood trauma involving a runaway mother, Dabney has been too phobic to leave Nantucket (except for four years at Harvard). Nearly three decades before, unable to follow in Clen’s globe-trotting footsteps, Dabney banished him from her life and from the life of their daughter, Agnes, who's never met her father, though she knows who he is. Now Clen is back on Nantucket—minus an arm. Agnes is engaged to the uber-rich, controlling and decidedly unclassy sports agent CJ. (This couple is definitely swathed in a green cloud.) Since Box is teaching in Cambridge during the week, the opportunity to resume an affair with Clen proves irresistible to Dabney. The complications mount until, suddenly, Hilderbrand’s essentially sunny setup, bolstered by many summer parties and picnics (and lavishly described meals, particularly seafood), takes a sudden, somber turn. Hilderbrand has a way of transcending the formulaic and tapping directly into the emotional jugular. Class is often an undercurrent in her work, but in this comedy of manners–turned–cautionary tale, luck establishes its own dubious meritocracy.
Beach reading with an unsettling edge.