The Identicals


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This is a beach read.  Most of it goes fine except there are little discrepancies like the character (Tabitha) who says she's never had a shot (of liquor) but recognizes the smell of Jagermeister. (p. 210)  There is a predictable surprise pregnancy.  Of course she doesn't recognize the symptoms immediately but it's very obvious to the reader.  Thankfully it doesn't take her too long to figure it out.

And, speaking of beaches, we read another Elin Hilderbrand book, "The Island" which took place on Tuckernuck island (as opposed to this book which takes place on the islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard).  On p. 326 she made a fun little reference to Tuckernuck.

Overall this is a novel of personal growth.  All of the main characters and many of the supporting characters experience deep transformations of the way they live their lives through personal reflection, self analysis, and determination. 

I read the eBook version so page numbers may be off from a paper copy.  I also heard some of it on audio book.  The audio book is average, as audio books go.

On a scale of 1 - 5 (5 being a lot of examples/instances):

Sex: 3

Religion: 1

Gruesome: 0

Suspense: 0

Morality: 3

Traditional: 2

Sex - Sexual flirting over food. (p. 125)  A character hooks up with a guy in a bar and details it over several paragraphs. (p. 215)  A reference to ranch hands being well hung. (p. 244)  A teenager losing her virginity. (p. 246)  A quick scene in the kitchen (p. 257) and then a little bit later on the beach (p. 259) followed by skinny-dipping.  A sexual comment regarding oral sex. (p. 260)  An employee thinks her boss is looking at internet porn but it turns out to be an obituary.  (p. 276)  After some days apart there is a brief lusty scene on a sofa. (p. 321)  A man who is estranged from his wife,"relieved his urges in the shower". (p. 365)

Religion - a teenage is aware that her boyfriend is Presbyterian but doesn't really know what that means

Gruesome -

Suspense -

Morality - affair between a married doctor and a patient's grown daughter.  A teenager steals alcohol from her grandmother's house, throws a party when mom is out, lies repeatedly, and, along with an accomplice, sets up another teen to get busted for alcohol and drugs at school.  The teenager later turns herself around and intentionally tries to be a better person.  A grandmother tells her 16 y/o granddaughter, "I loved him, but I shat all over the man." (p. 382)

Traditional - A woman has two children with a man but they never marry.

On at least three different occasions the book refers to a character wearing "AG Stilts" like we are supposed to know what they are.  The story proceeds nicely and is told from a variety of voices, primarily Tabitha, Harper and Ainsley.  But every now and then we see a supporting character's view and at that time it is as if the collective island as a whole is talking to us.  Either Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard says things like, "Al Phelps is a favorite with nearly all of us because he was such a dedicated...principal..." (p. 284) It was an odd shift at first but the island chapters do provide some good back story.

I do enjoy the way Ms. Hilderbrand develops her characters so that I like almost all of them.  Even the characters who are juxtaposed against the central characters, even the characters who are holding up progress for the main characters, are very likable characters.  I think the least likable characters are Emma and Dutch because they never get fully redeemed, but there are parts of the novel in which they too are likable.  I enjoyed the novel all the way through although it wasn't until p. 378 that I actually began to hope that it might all wrap-up with a happy ending.

I especially liked the reference to Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" on p. 404 because I read that story in college and it has always been one of my favorites.  Just this summer I read it to my 11 y/o.  He wasn't as impressed by it as I was, but I pointed out to him that it is often referenced in other works of literature.  So when I read the reference in this novel I was able to point it out to him.

Discussion Questions

In the beginning of the first Tabitha chapter, she mentions that she never got to tend bar for a summer.  
What was your best, most memorable summer job?

Have you ever caught your teenage children having a party?  Or were you ever caught as a teen?

Is it appropriate that Eleanor still calls Tabitha "Pony"?

Why is Eleanor's house called "Seamless"? (p. 90)

Harper had valid questions.  Discuss:  ...why is Harper the only one being held accountable for the infidelity?  She isn't married.  She isn't betraying anyone at home.  Well, okay, she was betraying Drew.  He thinks they agreed to be exclusive, but they've only been dating for three weeks.  They haven't even slept together, and Harper knows the word exclusive never crossed her lips.  But why isn't anyone vilifying Reed?  Why is it Harper who is cast as the evil seductress?  Does it go all the way back to Nathaniel Hawthorne?  Yes, she supposes it does. (p. 103)  Harper reasoned that Reed had started the affair (p. 125) - does that make it better?

When Harper is at Billy's with the real estate agent she contemplates, "The green comb had been Billy's since the beginning of time.  It probably cost him five cents at a drugstore on Charles street in Boston in 1978, but it's so deeply ingrained in Harper's mind as Billy's comb that it's as if his beating heart is there on the bathroom counter." (p. 108)  What items do you have from the beginning of time?

Does it seem reasonable that Tabitha leaves Ainsley because "Eleanor needs her; there is no one else"? (p. 161)  Why Tabitha and not Harper?

Eleanor's sister Flossie is "married to an eighty-five-year-old descendant of Henry Flagler". (p. 187)  Does including historical figures in such a fictional book break the mood?

Did you know that "sale" actually means "dirty" in French? (p. 208)  Did you know "Pride" was the last name of Woody from "Toy Story"? (p. 244)

A recurring question for Tabitha is, "have you ever lost anyone?"  For Tabitha it means everything as to whether she can have a relationship with someone.  Have YOU ever lost someone?  Does it change how you relate to people?  Was Ramsay right, should Tabitha get over it?

A couple of times when Tabitha checks in she is tempted to go running back home and take control back but she holds fast to the deal she made with Harper.  Is it realistic that an all together woman reaches her breaking point and sticks to it? (p. 226)

After Tabitha spends the day with Franklin, she thinks or feels she could be in love with him, even though, "Intellectually she knows this isn't possible.  You do not fall in love with someone you've known for ...a matter of hours.  It's called something else - infatuation, ... . But it feels just like love."  Can it be love?  What does it signify that she recognizes she skipped over telling Franklin about Julian?

Tabitha, a strong, independent woman, fell for Franklin and then he disappeared for a few days.  She filled those days with angst, worry and doubt.  When she sees him again (p. 321) she falls right into his arms.  Would you have preferred she put him on notice about how she will be treated and square up their relationship first?  Franklin chose family over love. (p. 323)  Did he make the right choice?

Did you have any childhood tricks to combat spooky things like Ainsley holding her breath to walk by the mannequins? (p. 227)

Did you feel sympathy for Ainsley?  Were you glad Teddy texted her after they saw each other at brunch? (p. 250)

Were you surprised at some of the connections like Ainsley's nemesis Emma was caught stealing by Caylee who lost her job because a man grabbed her butt and that man wound up to be Emma's father.  Or Harper had an affair with Reed who was married to Sadie who's brother Franklin fell in love with Tabitha.  Is this just part of life on an island?  How do the connections contribute to the story?

Discuss:  The next-to-last thing he wanted to hear about was his sister's sex life; the last thing he wanted to hear about was his parents' sex life.  But he put two and two together and deduced that cutting Reed off was Sadie's way of exacting her punishment.  Now, Franklin is not saying Reed was justified n having an affair.  But he isn't sure how Sadie saw that strategy working out to her advantage, other than that it would ensure she wouldn't have a child.  At this point, neither does she have a husband. (p. 287)

Drew thought that Franklin working on Billy's house was a conflict of interest. (p. 293 )  Was it?

When you are on a diet, is your whole house on a diet, like at Chief Oberg's house?  (p. 293)

Tabitha never blamed Wyatt for Julian's death. (p. 352)  She blamed Harper for bringing flowers and for making her go out.  Eleanor claims she was to blame.  Some of these blames come out of overwrought emotions.  Do you feel that anyone is directly to blame?  If so, who?  Why was Tabitha's only focus of blame Harper?

Eleanor thinks phones have become the scourge of modern society. (p. 357)  Do you agree?

Eleanor felt the best part of breaking her hip was getting to spend time with her sister, Flossie. (p. 358)  Discuss personal experiences with sisterly relationships.

If Sadie knew the IUD would keep her from getting pregnant, why did she pull away from Reed?  (p. 365)

When Sadie had a "craving" at the Grange Hall farmer's market and "suddenly finds herself ravenous" (p. 405) did you think she might somehow be pregnant too?

Were you surprised that Reed actually loved Harper?  (p. 374)  Discuss Reed's musings on p. 369, "He was in love with someone other than his wife but unsure if he had the gumption to leave his marriage.  To leave would bring pain, shame, scrutiny.  He didn't think he could stand it; he liked being held in high regard - which was, he realized, a character flaw in itself."  Was Reed really so ingrained in the local society that he valued status over happiness?  Sadie had similar thoughts on p. 405.  Does it change your feelings when Sadie admits to us that she had a crush on Tad, although it sounds as if she hadn't acted on it while she was still married?

Sadie made Reed go to her parents and confess his actions.  (p. 372)  He thought about explaining how things had really been between he and Sadie, "But what did that matter?  There were two kinds of people...He was unfaithful."  Would it have mattered if he gave a truer picture behind the scenes?

Did you think it would be possible for both ladies to end up with the object of their affection?  Were you satisfied with the ending?  Is Reed more of a winner than Harper since, in addition to love, he got a child, which was a large part of the reason his first marriage failed?

This is a novel of personal growth.  Harper, Tabitha, Ainsley, Eleanor, Caylee, Sadie and Reed all experience transformation.  Who experienced the most significant change?  Do you think Hilderbrand intentionally included the reference to "The Metamorphosis" by Kafka on p. 404 to send an underlying message or was it just a random work of literature that came to mind?

"Ainsley is in awe of the many ways that parents are able to screw up their children's lives.  She had thought she was nearly out of Tabitha's grip - in a couple of years she will be eighteen, an adult - but now she realizes a mother's rule can last one's entire life." (p. 385 - 386)  Discuss the impact of a mother on a daughter.  Is it the same for a son?  What about a father's impact?


Theme Ideas

Serve "clam chowder and lobster rolls" as described in the idyllic summer scenario at the beginning of the book.
Serve cheeseburgers with garlic fries and/or seared-scallop tacos with red cabbage slaw as described in the Nantucket section at the beginning of the book.
Serve "the freshest seafood, the creamiest chowder, and the crispiest, most succulent fried whole-belly clams" as described in the Vineyard section at the beginning of the book.
Serve potato salad and grilled chicken with pie (strawberry-rhubarb, blueberry-peach, or lobster pot) like at Dr. (Reed) Zimmer's family picnic when Billy died.
Drink a toast to Billy with Amity Island ales and Jagermeister, like Harper drank after he died.
Serve lobster stew like Drew's aunties made for Harper after Billy died.
Serve lamb lollipops, lobster-corn cakes, gougeres and deviled eggs like on the boat at the beginning of the first Tabitha chapter.
Serve champagne in flutes, shrimp cocktail, radish sandwiches and pigs in a blanket as they did at Billy's memorial reception.
Serve "Fish food" like after the memorial:  Powdered-sugar doughnuts and sandwiches (egg salad and watercress and radish-and-butter).
Serve Veuve Clicquot like Eleanor drank on the Hy-Line ferry after the memorial.
Serve zucchini, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes like Harper harvested from the garden she planted at Billy's house. (p. 106)
Serve "cioppino with clams and mussels" in "tomato-rich broth" like Harper cooked for Tabitha after Julian was born. (p. 119)
Serve grilled Caesar salad, lobster tacos and peach-blueberry cobbler. (p. 125)
Serve persimmon cordials. (p. 125)
Serve Shark Attack ice cream (vanilla ice cream colored blue, with white chocolate chunks and raspberry swirl). (p. 128)  Personally, I would make this in my Cuisinart ice cream maker.
Serve Irish coffee (p. 131)
Serve Grey Goose vodka and Bombay sapphire in honor of Ainsley. (p. 138)  "Vodka, tonic, ice, and a fat wedge of lemon."
Serve pasta carbonara, salad, garlic bread, iced tea and (optional) Coke Zero in honor of the first meal Harper cooked Ainsley. (p. 147)  Include mixed nuts and marinated mozzarella balls. (p. 148)  Include lit candles and crystal goblets filed with ice water. (p. 155)  Use a tablecloth, china, silver, a bread basket and wide shallow serving bowls. (p. 156)
Serve beer and lobster rolls like Ramsay and Harper ate the first time they met. (p. 154)
Serve ice cream, chocolate frappes and yellow bags of Lay's chips (p. 192-193) like when Ainsley and Harper went to Ramsay's pharmacy.
Serve iced jasmine tea, an assortment of avocado toasts - some with radishes, some with heirloom tomatoes, some with hard-boiled egg, and hot water with lemon (p. 196) like when Harper interviewed Caylee.
Serve Foxy Roxie punch (vodka, champagne, mango nectar, and cranberry) along with big bowls of truffled popcorn, lavish crudite trays with three kinds of dip and tiny avocado toasts (p. 199) like at the party in the boutique.  Also sparkling water. (p. 200)
Serve "pastrami-and-Swiss" sandwiches with "tangy bread-and-butter pickles and horseradish mustard on Portuguese bread...griddled until the bread turned golden brown and the swiss melted..." with icy Cokes like Franklin made for Tabitha. (p. 217)
Serve grilled-chicken BLTs, classic picnic macaroni salad, sliced sugared peaches, lime sugar cookies and a cooler of cold bottled water like Harper served at the beach picnic with Ramsay and Ainsley. (p. 232)  Include Rock Angel rose like Ramsay brought.
Serve "locally roasted coffees and organic teas, glass pitchers of juice in jewel tones, and a platter of fresh fruit - fat berries and figs and fresh sliced peaches and plums, edges of watermelon and rings of juicy pineapple.  ...two kids of smoothies - kale and strawberry - and...freshly made scones with clotted cream and guava jam....overnight oatmeal with raisins, nuts, and dried cherries and...an elaborate platter of cheeses and meats and smoked fish." (p. 241) like when Caylee met Ainsley for brunch. 
Serve both Sancerre and Malbec as Franklin ordered (p. 262) when he took Tabitha out for a dinner of: "velvety lobster bisque, a lightly dressed salad of microgreens and brightly colored...sweet radish, pan-seared lobster with a grapefruit beurre blanc served over savory soft polenta, sirloin au poivre ... with dauphine potatoes - walnut-size croquettes filled with buttery heaven."  Include dessert "served on a wooden lazy Susan: a passion-fruit panna cotta, miniature cannoli filled with pistachio cream, lemon blueberry tarts with an almond-ginger crust and toffee blondies topped with coconut fluff." (p. 264)
Serve passion-fruit martinis like Ramsay and Harper drank at The Pearl. (p. 270)
Serve pot roast with potatoes and carrots and onions, snowflake rolls from scratch, and an iceberg salad with bottled blue cheese dressing. (p. 287)
Serve Billecart-Salmon brut rose champagne, bouillabaisse filled with scallops, mussels and chunks of lobster with salad and crusty bread like Harper brought/made when she arrived to help with Julian.
Serve "a starter of portobello mushroom over Parmesan pudding,...pan-roasted halibut, ... a bottle of very cold Sancerre."  For dessert - creme brulee like when Harper and Tabitha went out and left Julian with Wyatt. (p. 349)
Serve "oysters and vichyssoise" (p. 354) in honor of Billy and Eleanor in the summer of 1968.
When Eleanor returned home she wanted a variety of foods she had missed. (p. 357)  Serve lobster bisque, cheeseburgers and truffle-Asiago frites/fries (ref. p. 358).  And her favorite drink, Mount Gay and tonic.
When Reed realized he was not longer in love with Sadie she served "short-rib-and-onion pot pie" with a bottle of red wine.  Reed preferred beer or Scotch. (p. 364)
Serve crab and artichoke ravioli like Billy and Harper liked. (p. 366)
Serve food that acknowledges Sadie's binge at the Grange Hall farmer's market (p. 405 - 407): egg rolls, popovers with raspberry butter, mango lassi, Eiodolon cheese, "Vineyard Sunshine" granola, rugelach, fresh squeezed OJ, sea-salt caramels and a "nitro cold brew from Chilmark Coffee"
For their last "happy hour" together Eleanor and Flossie enjoyed: bluefish pate, guacamole and shrimp cocktail (p. 411)


Meet at a Starbucks, in honor of Joseph Starbuck, the whale-oil merchant from Nantucket.
Use a Jaws theme since the movie was filmed on Martha's Vineyard.
Meet in an old-fashioned pharmacy (with a formica lunch counter and vinyl-and-chrome stools) (p. 192)

Decorate with Simon Pearce candlesticks like Eleanor had. (p. 356)
Decorate with flowers:

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