Monday, August 13, 2012


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.

No comments:

Post a Comment