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Authors: Elin Hilderbrand

The Beach Club

BOOK: The Beach Club
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The Beach Club

“Faithful to the easy rhythm of a real-life summer resort, the novel is lively with guests new and old who bring fresh problems to the plot.… A strong emotional pull…readers will remain absorbed until the surprising denouement.”

Publishers Weekly

“A feisty first novel…lively enough to keep a sun-bather awake.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Surprisingly touching…a work of fiction you’re likely to think about long after you’ve put it down.”


“A beautiful hotel on Nantucket Island filled with enough love, lust, and jealousy to rival your favorite daytime soap.”


“A charming, easygoing story about the tangled lives and loves of the summer crew and guests at a hotel and beach club.”

The Boston Globe


The Opening

May 1

Dear Bill,

Another summer season is about to begin on beautiful Nantucket Island. I have just returned from my winter retreat—Nevis, Vail, Saipan—it’s your guess where I’ve been. The important thing is that I’m back, and I am prepared to sweeten my offer to buy the hotel. I know you have some crazy idea about family loyalty and passing the business on to your daughter, but things don’t always work out the way we want them to. Alas, I have learned this the hard way. So as you start this season of sun and sand, consider my offer: twenty-two million. That’s a pretty good deal, and if you don’t mind my saying so, you’re not getting any younger

Feel free to write to me at the usual P.O. box downtown. I’ll be waiting to hear from you

As ever

On the first of May, Mack Petersen swung his Jeep into the parking lot of the Nantucket Beach Club and Hotel for the start of his twelfth summer season as manager, the Almost Head Honcho. Twelve was an important number, Mack decided, with its own name. A dozen. Mack’s dozen years of working at the hotel were like eggs, all in one basket, like the Boston cream doughnuts served at the hotel’s Continental breakfast, one practically indistinguishable from the next. There were twelve months in a year, twelve signs in the Zodiac, twelve hours of
Twelve was a full cycle, a cycle completed. Maybe Maribel was right, then. Maybe this was the year things would change.

Mack walked across the parking lot to look at Nantucket’s most picturesque beach. Over the winter, northeasterly winds blew the sand into smooth, rounded dunes, in some places six and eight feet high. Mack trudged to the top of one of the dunes and gazed out over the water. The Beach Club sat on the north shore of the island, on Nantucket Sound, where the water was as flat and placid as a fishing pond. The white sand was clean and wide, although they lost beach to erosion, some years as much as twenty-five feet. Last year they had gained beach and the owner of the hotel, Bill Elliott, was so happy that he had thrown his arm around Mack’s shoulder, and said, “See there? We’re not going to lose her after all.” As though the Beach Club and Hotel belonged to them both. Which, of course, was not the case.

Mack had stayed on Nantucket through the winter with his girlfriend Maribel, but he hadn’t checked on the hotel even once. It was a rule he’d created over the years:
I won’t think about the hotel in winter
. Were the shingles falling off? Was the paint peeling? Were they losing beach? Those were questions for Bill and his wife, Therese, but they spent their winters skiing in Aspen, and if anyone were going to check on the place, it would be Mack. But he never did. He knew that if he let it, the hotel would obsess him, drive him crazy.

The most photographed part of the hotel was the pavilion—a covered deck with five blue Adirondack chairs facing the water. All summer, guests sat in the low, wide chairs with their feet up on the railing, drinking coffee, reading the paper. This picture of summer bliss made it into the Nantucket chamber of commerce guide year after year.

The lobby of the hotel was its own freestanding building with a row of windows that looked over the pavilion and the beach. The hotel rooms began outside the back door of the lobby: twenty single-story, cedar-shingled rooms formed a giant L. Ten rooms ran down toward the water and ten rooms faced the water. All the rooms had small decks, and thus the rooms were distinguished by the names, “side deck” and “front deck.” Therese had further nicknamed the front deck rooms the “Gold Coast,” because they were so expensive.

Twenty rooms might not seem like a lot at first, but the beach also hosted a private Beach Club: One hundred members paid annual dues to sit under umbrellas for the ten weeks of summer. They could have saved themselves the money and gone to Steps Beach to the west, or Jetties Beach to the east, but year after year membership of the Beach Club was full. Mack’s primary job was to treat the guests and the Beach Club members like royalty. He arranged dinner reservations and the delivery of flowers, wine, steamed lobsters, birthday cakes. He had a key to every door, and knew the location of every extension cord, vacuum cleaner bag, feather pillow. He hired and fired the staff and created the weekly work schedule. He knew every Beach Club member’s name by heart and the names of all the children. Mack ran the place. Bill and Therese had owned the Beach Club and Hotel for twenty years but Mack understood its ins and outs, its cracks, sore spots, and hideaways better than anyone. It had been his course of study now for twelve years.

A thousand guests would walk into the lobby over the next six months. Some had been coming to the hotel as long as Mack had worked there. The baseball managers (in July, over the all-star break), Leo Hearn, a lawyer from Chicago (Memorial Day), Mrs. Ford, a widow who came for the month of September and smoked a pack of cigarettes in her room each day.

Then there would be Andrea Krane, a woman Mack thought he might be in love with. Andrea arrived in June and stayed for three weeks with her autistic son, James. Mack imagined her long, honey-colored hair twisted into a bun or a braid. Smiling a rare smile, because when she arrived at the Beach Club she was happy. She had three weeks stretched in front of her, twenty-one days sparkling like diamonds on a tennis bracelet.

Mack watched the ferry approach in the distance. It was full of people coming to work for the season—waiters and waitresses, ice cream scoopers, lifeguards, landscapers, nannies, chambermaids, bellmen. Twelve years ago it had been Mack on that boat—his first time on the ocean—and when he stepped off at Steamship Wharf his life changed. Nantucket had saved him.


Twelve years ago, Mack was eighteen, a farm boy. Born and raised in Swisher, Iowa, where his father owned a 530-acre farm—corn and soybeans, hogs and chickens. The farm had originally belonged to Mack’s grandfather, then his father, and Mack grew up understanding that it would one day be his. School felt like a waste of time, except that it was a place to socialize. Mack loved to talk—the bonus for spending hours on a combine by himself was that his father took him to The Alibi for a greasy ham-and-egg breakfast, or to the feed store—and there was always lots of talk.

Mack’s mother worked part-time at an antique store in Swisher—a quiet job of crystal figurines and classical music. Mack’s parents belonged to Swisher Presbyterian, but they weren’t strict about going to church, nor were they prescriptive about what Mack should believe. In fact, his mother once told him she didn’t believe in heaven.

“I just don’t believe in it,” she said as she scrubbed potatoes at the sink and Mack puzzled over his trigonometry homework at the long oak harvest table. “I believe that when you die, you die, and you’re back to where you were before you were born. Oblivion, I guess you’d call it.”

Two months before Mack’s high school graduation, his parents went out for their Saturday night dinner date. On their way home on Route 380, a tractor trailer sideswiped their car and they crashed into the guardrail and died. There hadn’t been foul weather—no rain, no ice. Only carelessness on the part of the truck driver, and possibly, on the part of Mack’s father, who should have hit the brakes harder when the truck pulled in front of him. (Had his father been drinking? A cocktail before dinner, wine?) It didn’t matter to Mack; it didn’t change the fact that two good people were dead. Mack was left orphaned, although
wasn’t a word anyone used, and neither was it a word Mack thought of often. He was, after all, eighteen. An adult.

Mack left the farm to his father’s lawyer, David Pringle, and his father’s sidekick Wendell, and the farmhands who worked there. He picked up his high school diploma, caught a bus east and took it as far as it would go, a romantic idea, one his mother would have liked. When the bus stopped in Hyannis, Massachusetts, Mack thought he would find a small apartment and a job, but then he caught his first glimpse of the ocean and he learned there was a boat that would take him even farther east, to an island. Nantucket Island.

Mack found his job at the Beach Club by accident. When the ferry pulled in to Steamship Wharf, Bill Elliott stood waiting on the dock, and when Mack stepped off the boat, Bill tapped his shoulder.

“Are you here for the job at the Beach Club?” Bill asked.

Mack didn’t even think about it. “Yes, sir, I am.”

He followed Bill to an olive-colored Jeep. Bill hoisted Mack’s duffel into the back and they drove off the wharf and down North Beach Road without another word. When they pulled into the parking lot of the hotel, Mack saw the view of the water—he was still not used to so much water—and then he heard a hum.
Hum. Hum

“What’s that noise?” Mack asked.

“The seagulls?” Bill said. “They can be pretty loud. Where did you come from?”

“Iowa,” Mack said.

Bill’s forehead wrinkled. “I thought you were coming from New Jersey.”

It confirmed Mack’s fear: there was some kid from New Jersey standing on the wharf, waiting for Bill to pick him up.

“No, sir, I came from Swisher, Iowa.” He heard the noise again.
Hum. Hum
. Home—it sounded like a voice saying “
” “You don’t hear that?” Mack asked.

Bill smiled. “I guess you didn’t have too many gulls out in Iowa. I guess this is all brand-new.”

“Yes, sir,” Mack said. A voice was saying “
Home, home.
” Mack could hear it as plain as day. He extended his hand. “I’m Mack Petersen.”

Bill frowned. “Mack Petersen wasn’t who I was picking up.”

“I know,” Mack said. “But you asked if I was here for a job, and I am.”

“Do you know anything about hotels?” Bill asked.

“I will soon, I guess,” Mack said. And he heard it again; it was the funniest thing.

Mack didn’t believe in spiritual guides, past lives, fortune-tellers, tarot cards, or crystal balls. He believed in God and in a heaven, despite what his mother told him. But what Mack heard wasn’t the voice of God. The voice wasn’t coming from the sky, it was coming from the land beneath his feet.

Mack had heard the voice at other times over the past twelve years, too many now to count. He read about phenomena like this—the Taos Hum, the Whisper of Carmel—but never on Nantucket. Mack once found the courage to ask Maribel, “Do you ever hear things on this island?
this island? Do you ever hear a voice?” Maribel blinked her blue eyes, and said, “I do think the island has a voice. It’s the waves, the birds, the whisper of the dune grass.”

Mack never mentioned the voice to anyone again.


Mack listened for the voice now as he lingered on the dune. Just four days earlier, he’d received a phone call from David Pringle, the lawyer who’d supervised the farm in Iowa for all the years since Mack left. David called every now and then urging Mack to rent out the farmhouse, or to apprise him of profits and loss, taxes, weather. But he had never sounded as serious as he did four days ago.

“Wendell gave his notice,” David said. “He’s retiring after harvest.”

“Yeah?” Mack said. Wendell, Mack’s father’s right-hand man, had been in charge since Mack left.

“I told you this was in the future, Mack. I told you to do some thinking.”

“You did,” Mack said. “You surely did.”

“But you haven’t done the thinking.”

“No,” Mack said. “Not really.” When had Mack last talked to David? Last November after harvest? A Christmas card? Mack couldn’t remember. He only vaguely recalled a conversation about Wendell getting ready to leave.

“We need someone to run things,” David said.

“Hire one of the other hands to do it,” Mack said. “I trust your judgment, David.”

David sighed into the phone. He was a good person, and less like a lawyer than anybody Mack had met on the East Coast, where even men who weren’t lawyers acted like lawyers. “Since the Oral B plant opened, we’ve lost a lot of help,” David said. “We haven’t had a hand here longer than six months. You want me to put a transient like that in charge of your father’s farm?”

“Are they all transients? Aren’t there a couple of hardworking kids, looking for a chance?”

“Wendell and I don’t think so,” David said. “We’ve talked about it. If your little love affair with that island isn’t over, Mack, I mean, if you’re going to stick it out in the East, then Wendell and I agree it’s time to put the farm up.”

“For sale, you mean?”

David hummed into the phone. “Mmmm-hmm.”

“I don’t think I can do that,” Mack said.

“You have the summer to think it over,” David said. “If you’re not going to sell it, then you ought to come home and do the job yourself. You’ve been out there a long time.”

“Twelve years,” Mack said.

“Twelve years,” Mack could practically see David shaking his head in disbelief. “Your decision, but this is what your father left you. I’d rather see you sell it than let it fall to pieces.”

“Okay,” Mack said. “So I’ll talk to you in a couple of months, then?”

“I’ll be in touch,” David said.


Mack couldn’t imagine selling his family’s farm but neither could he imagine leaving Nantucket. The farm was the last place he’d kissed his mother’s cheek, he was born and raised there, and worked side by side with his father. Sell the farm? Leave Nantucket? An impossible decision. Twelve years later, Mack didn’t know where his home was. And so, as he stood on top of the dune, he listened; he wanted the voice to tell him what to do.


May first was Bill Elliott’s least favorite day of the year; it was one of the few mornings that he didn’t make love to his wife, Therese. May first was Therese’s day to sleep in undisturbed while Bill tried not to panic. The doctor told him panic was bad for his heart; stress of any kind could take months off his life. (Bill noted the use of that word, “months,” and it terrified him. His life had been pared down to increments of thirty days.)

At dawn, he left his house for a walk along Hulbert Avenue. The summer homes on Hulbert were boarded up, Bill was relieved to see; it looked as if the houses were sleeping. So there was still plenty of time to whip the hotel into shape. The reservation book filled up by the Ides of March, but taking reservations was the easy part. The hard part was now, this morning, thinking about all the work that had to be done. The enormous, rounded dunes of the beach. Twenty rooms with furniture piled on top of the beds, draped with white sheets. Dusty, disorganized.

BOOK: The Beach Club
12.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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