29 December 2011

My Thoughts on J. Courtney Sullivan, Maine


Most people would  classify J. Courtney Sullivan's book Maine as a summer read, or a beach read.  For me, it was a bright spot in my winter reading. The story is of four women, three generations in an Irish Catholic family from Boston that summers in Maine.  The four perspective characters are Alice, the matriarch, her daughter Kathleen, a recovering alcoholic who has escaped her family's clutches to a worm farm in California, Anne Marie, Alice's daughter-in-law who is obsessed with keeping up appearances as a perfect suburban housewife, and Maggie, Kathleen's granddaughter who is going through some major life changes of her own.  They all meet up at the family house in Maine, under unexpected circumstances and, slowly, many of the family's deeply held  secrets are revealed.

Nothing much happens in the story plot-wise.  The structure of the story is a careful revealing, of the Kelleher's past and of the secrets that they keep from one another.  Anne Marie says of the family she married into, "Even after thirty-three years of marriage, Ann Marie sat at every family dinner and listened to them tell the same stories, over and over.  She had never met a family so tied up in their own mythology."  But it is that family mythology, and the fully drawn characters that make Sullivan's book such a pleasure to read.

Sullivan reminds me why I love intelligent, literary women's fiction.  She is a skilled chronicler of the lives of women of many ages and many circumstances.  I thought that her first book Commencement was great as well, although this one feels more "grown up."  I would recommend them both.

Title: Maine
Author:J. Courtney Sullivan
Publisher/Price: Knopf, $25.95
Date: 2011
Genre: Literary Fiction/ Women's Fiction

385 pages.
Where I got it: From the publisher, and I also bought my own copy
Challenges: I Want More Challenge


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