Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Maine

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan
Published June 2011 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Book
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher

Maine is the story of four women, three generations of Kelleher women, and what it means to be a family.

Matriarch, Alice, is an alcoholic, no-holds-barred, deeply religious woman, racked by guilt and profoundly lonely after the death of her beloved husband, Daniel. Alice took on the roles of wife and mother as penance but she never let her family forget that it had cost her her dreams. There is nothing warm, soft or fuzzy about Alice.

Alice holds daughter, Kathleen, partially responsible for Daniel's death and harbors anger over what she perceives as his habit of spoiling Kathleen. With a mother like Alice, it's no wonder Kathleen also became an alcoholic, determined to live her life as differently as she can possibly be, including having an extremely close relationship with her daughter, Maggie.

Thirty-two year old Maggie finds herself pregnant and dealing with a boyfriend who won't commit, a mother she's afraid to disappoint and a grandmother she can't seem to connect with. Maggie calls Alice charming on the outside, icy on the inside, a woman who has warmed to boyfriend, Gabe but won't open up to Maggie.

Ann Marie, who came into the Kelleher clan when she married son Patrick, feels tremendous pressure to care for her mother-in-law and to be the perfect wife and mother. Once her children have left home, though, she begins to question how they could have all turned out so differently from what she had hoped. She turns to a dollhouse obsession and a crush on a married man.

Maine is a story about communication as much as it is about family. What is not said plays a much more important role in the women's relationships as what is said. Alice has never told anyone about the guilt that she has lived with, she has never confronted Kathleen about her anger she felt when Daniel left Kathleen his money. Ann Marie won't tell the family that her son Daniel is not the crown prince he was raised to be or that her daughter, Fiona, is gay. These kinds of stories always make me think about how my own family communicates - what we say and what we don't. The four women's stories overlap as Sullivan moves back and forth between each woman's narratives and back and forth in time. There are no easy answers in Maine but Sullivan's characters show real, believable growth. As much as these women change, they remain true to their essential characters.

Maine is a terrific summer read, a beach book with depth.

16 comments:

  1. Novels where the characters voice their perspective on family relationships and the reader gets a bigger picture of these dynamics are fascinating. The family members in 'Maine' all sound very up-tight. Glad to know that these women begin to change.

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  2. I read this last summer and thought it was a great summer book. Glad u liked it.

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  3. This is just the kind of book I enjoy reading and need right now - generations, relationships -- you know, girl stuff. LOL

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  4. I have sort of stayed away from this one, as a few good friends didn't like it and said it was rather depressing, but I feel the need to explore now that I have read your review, and check it out for myself. It does sound rather deep and full of emotional adversity. Wonderful review today, you've made me rethink this one!

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  5. I take it the story takes place in Maine? Does it play a prominent part in the story or just the title? I am heading there next week. Would be fun to have a book to read that takes place there. :)

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  6. Depth is not something I expect from a summer read, but it's what I look for! I am glad this one had some substance to it.

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  7. Mari - the beach homes are in Maine and it talks a far amount about that area.

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  8. I love a good in depth beach read! I will put this one on my list. Thanks for the thoughtful review.

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  9. I have had this book on my tbr since it came out, before I read any reviews even. And it is still sitting there waiting. I know I will love it.

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  10. "a beach book with depth" - that's my kind of summer reading! I know I'm going to love Maine.

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  11. I was just looking at this! I'm one of four siblings and I can guarantee that we all have secrets from one other. Books about intricate family dynamics always fascinate me for this reason.

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  12. This is likely a book I wouldn't have given second thought to before reading your review. I do like books that delve into family relationships though and from your description, I just might like this one after all. Thanks for your great review, Lisa!

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  13. I hadn't heard of this one before, but the relationships aspect of the story really appeals to me, especially of the mother and daughters.

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  14. Your description, "a beach book with depth" is absolutely perfect for MAINE!

    I loved the scene toward the beginning, with the grandmother expecting two meals out of that little meatloaf -- reminded me of scenes from my own family :)

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  15. I have seen the author speak twice and each time she intrigued me with the book - I had hoped to read it this summer but with one week to labor day I guess that is not going to happen. Perhaps if I extend the definition of summer until the first day of fall in Sept?

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