Monday, July 9, 2012

Maine - J. Courtney Sullivan

Rating: 3 stars

The Kelleher's are one big happy, dysfunctional Irish-Catholic family. It is June, and three generations of the Kellehers are planning to their summer trips to the beach house in Maine, which the patriarch of the family - long past Daniel Kelleher - won as a bet in 1945. Alice, the matriarch of the family, secretly makes a large donation to a church in Maine as penance for an much darker secret in her past. Maggie, her granddaughter, travels to Maine to escape a fight with her deadbeat boyfriend, Gabe, while also figuring out how to tell him she's pregnant with his child. Ann-Marie, Alice's daughter-in-law, struggles to face the next chapter of her life. And Kathleen, Maggie's mother and Alice's eldest daughter, swore she'd never return.

None of these women is particularly likable, with the exception of Maggie. Alice is bitter, mean, selfish, and an alcoholic who doesn't actually think she's an alcoholic. Daniel, as we learn through all of the characters, was a steady rock, good husband, and loving father. Though you do get the impression that both were in love and respected each other in many ways, Alice doesn't seem to treat his memory with the respect the reader assumes he deserves. Ann-Marie pretends to be all that she is - a shallow, nouveau riche housewife - and it's no wonder she's become lost and unappreciated in leaning solely on domesticity. Kathleen is the rebellious daughter who broke loose - starting as an alcoholic married to another, and then divorcing him and joining AA. Though she tries desperately hard to be the opposite of Alice, she's practically exactly the same - preachy and selfish. Maggie is just clueless - forever searching for love and stability in hands of the wrong men. But she's also kind and thoughtful. You get the impression that her temperament is a lot like Daniel's was. Still, you find yourself rooting for these women. Their flaws make them extremely real.

It's even decently written. Though my major gripe with the novel is its lack of action. Told in alternating perspectives, everything seems to happen just before you get to that character's chapter, so you're reading about what HAD happened, versus reading about it actually happening. It's an easy trap to get caught in and is slightly amateurish - I blame her editor.

Read it in the summer. On a beach. Root for the ladies and pretend you're in Maine. Then go read a classic.

UPDATE:  I just had a conversation about this book with a friend. The only character that's actually lives and acts in the present is Maggie. Alice, Kathleen and Anne Marie seem to be doing a significant amount of the "had"s. She maintains it's because these women can't seem to move on from their pasts. They're doing more reflecting than anything else. Worrying about who they are and, with the amount of family secrets floating around, unable to actually find closure. I will agree with this statement and no longer blame her editor.

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