The Tailgate is a short story set in the 1980s as a prequel to Hilderbrand’s upcoming present-day novel, The Matchmaker (June 24, Little, Brown). In the beginning, a few things slowed my enthusiasm: Hilderbrand is so skilled at capturing the nuances of marriage and adulthood, of playing with the complications that come with a mature life, it feels like her hands are tied writing such young characters. Dabney is incredibly fragile, and it’s irritating. But just when I’m thinking this story doesn’t have any teeth – bam! It got me.
Dabney Kimball and Clendenin Hughes have been inseparable since freshman year of high school “the same person in two different bodies.” Now they are at Harvard and Yale respectively, and their different bodies are 140 miles apart. Visits have been few and far between: Dabney doesn’t like to travel because she suffers from some form of agoraphobia. But this weekend, it’s the Harvard-Yale football game weekend, and after many cancelled visits, she has finally made the trip.
At first, Clen seems withdrawn. He warns her that he has to cancel on their Saturday night plans because he’s under deadline at the newspaper. But the editor-in-chief of the paper lets it slip that no one at the paper is under deadline except for the sports editor. What the? And then Dabney meets the arts editor, Jocelyn Harrison, who is immediately snarky to Dabney:
“You brought a picnic to a picnic?” A girl with long, dark, straight, shiny hair was peering into the laundry basket. Her hair was so beautiful it was impossible not to stare. If Dabney had hair like that, she would have felt immodest.
You can see where this is going. And by the end of the story, so does Dabney. She leaves before the weekend is over.
The Tailgate had some good moments, some “Elin Hilderbrand” moments. But the story is not satisfying in itself. While it won’t deter me from reading The Matchmaker, it’s not making me rush out to read it, either. Only Elin Hilderbrand’s backlist of fantastic novels can make me do that. And they will.
THE TAILGATE/May 6/Little, Brown, and Company