Friday, July 8, 2011

Review: Maine

Summary: In her best-selling debut, Commencement, J. Courtney Sullivan explored the complicated and contradictory landscape of female friendship. Now, in her highly anticipated second novel, Sullivan takes us into even richer territory, introducing four unforgettable women who have nothing in common but the fact that, like it or not, they’re family.

For the Kellehers, Maine is a place where children run in packs, showers are taken outdoors, and old Irish songs are sung around a piano. Their beachfront property, won on a barroom bet after the war, sits on three acres of sand and pine nestled between stretches of rocky coast, with one tree bearing the initials “A.H.” At the cottage, built by Kelleher hands, cocktail hour follows morning mass, nosy grandchildren snoop in drawers, and decades-old grudges simmer beneath the surface.

As three generations of Kelleher women descend on the property one summer, each brings her own hopes and fears. Maggie is thirty-two and pregnant, waiting for the perfect moment to tell her imperfect boyfriend the news; Ann Marie, a Kelleher by marriage, is channeling her domestic frustration into a dollhouse obsession and an ill-advised crush; Kathleen, the black sheep, never wanted to set foot in the cottage again; and Alice, the matriarch at the center of it all, would trade every floorboard for a chance to undo the events of one night, long ago.

By turns wickedly funny and achingly sad,
Maine unveils the sibling rivalry, alcoholism, social climbing, and Catholic guilt at the center of one family, along with the abiding, often irrational love that keeps them coming back, every summer, to Maine and to each other. -- Knopf

At the beginning of every summer, I read all of the "Best of..." lists and compile my summer reading list. One of the books that I was most looking forward to reading was MAINE by J. Courtney Sullivan. It's been getting rave reviews, plus it sounds like my type of book. It deals with a dysfunctional family and their relationships. Plus, much of it takes place at a beach house. I couldn't wait to read it!

MAINE tells the story of four women in the Kelleher family who meet up during the summer at the family beach house in Maine. There is the matriarch Alice, her daughter Kathleen, her daughter-in-law Ann Marie, and her granddaughter Maggie (Kathleen's daughter.) All of these women have strained relationships with each other, and believe me when I tell you that their actions (and reactions) make MAINE a highly entertaining story.

In fact, MAINE just got better and better the more I read. I ended up feeling as if I knew this Kelleher family, and I adored these women -- flaws and all. That's not to say that I didn't find fault with each of them and have my fair share of issues, but I loved how caught up I became in their lives. I experienced frustration, anger, pity, and even laughter with them; and they honestly felt like real women that I could know. I have little doubt that most readers will see elements of their family and friends in these four women.

I absolutely adored this novel for so many reasons, and I won't be able to share all of them with you in one review. However, there are a few things that really stood out to me. First of all, I appreciated Ms. Sullivan's writing. As I mentioned before, she managed to create some very memorable and entertaining characters; and I think she did a remarkable job of capturing the essence of a dysfunctional family. I think one of the real reasons that these characters resonated with me so much is because the author told in each of the characters' voices. I loved how the story alternated between each character's point of view and it was sometimes funny to see the same event from a different viewpoint.

I also really loved the setting of the story. MAINE takes place over a few weeks in the summer at the Kelleher beach house in Maine (duh!) I've never been to Maine, but I thought Ms. Sullivan brought this small coastal town to life for me. I could picture not only the town, but also the beauty of the ocean and the quaintness of the old beach house. I'd almost go so far as to say that the setting was so alive to me that it became another character in this novel.

MAINE certainly was an entertaining read for me and it could have been a light, fluffy beach read because these characters were definitely "characters"; however, it ended up being so much more. I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of this novel, and I was very impressed with some of the themes that this novel explored. Because the story was about three generations of women, the reader was given a glimpse into how much women have changed through the years. It's obvious that society's views on women have drastically changed over the past 50 or so years, but MAINE also reflects the effects that society has on these four women's desires. This novel also explored the very serious themes of alcoholism, guilt, forgiveness and redemption.

In addition, MAINE explores some very complex relationship issues. I loved seeing how these women interacted with each other. For example, it was interesting to see Ann Marie's view as a daughter-in-law in relation to Alice and her sister-in-law. And I pretty much thought Alice's relationships with everyone were quite entertaining -- she was definitely a force to be reckoned with. I also appreciated the dynamics of these women's relationships with their husbands and boyfriends as well as their interactions with the family priest. But it was the scenes in the beach house towards the end of the novel where the women really opened up that made this book so special to me.

MAINE would make a wonderful book club pick especially for female book clubs and ones that enjoy discussing dysfunctional families -- my group would love this book. There is a reading guide available which I thought was very good and highlighted many of the same themes that I wanted to discuss. Some of the topics that you might want to explore include dysfunctional families, parental love, motherhood, guilt, spirituality, faith, alcoholism, sibling rivalry, resentment, secrets, and loss. I found all of the characters to be incredibly interesting; and truly, you could just talk about them (and their interactions) for hours.

After reading (and loving) MAINE, I have to ask myself why I've waiting so long to read Ms. Sullivan's debut novel COMMENCEMENT. I understand that it's written in a similar format with alternating chapters from the various characters' points of view, and the reviews for it are stellar. Guess what book's moving up in my TBR pile?

I think MAINE is the perfect summer read. If you enjoy stories about women, relationships, and lots of drama, then this one is for you!

Thanks to KNSPR for providing me a copy of this novel.


Anonymous said...

Oh, this sounds delightful! I ALSO have Commencement on my shelf and have been putting it off...guess I should get to that, eh?

bermudaonion said...

Wow, I feel like I need to drop everything and run out and buy a copy of this right now! Your review is fantastic!!

Beth(bookaholicmom) said...

I am so glad you reviewed this book. I have been curious about it but wasn't sure I would enjoy it. After reading how much you enjoyed it, I will be putting it on my tbr list. Thanks for reviewing it. I might have skipped it otherwise.

Anonymous said...

I've had this one on my list, along with several other "beach reads". I'm glad to know that it is more than that and I, too, am attracted to stories of families dealing with issues. I seem to always be able to find a character or a situation that I can relate to. Nice review!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Sounds more fun than the usual dysfunctional family book!

Beth Hoffman said...

Terrific review, Julie!

Sandy Nawrot said...

It is hard not to get excited about this book...I've been hearing about it everywhere. And I also think that the location (similar to Outer Banks for example) is a character itself, which really brings a book to a whole new level.

Kailana said...

That cover makes me want to go to the beach!

TheBookGirl said...

Seems like this was a winner on many levels :)

It's always nice when you are pleasantly surprised at the depth a book has.

Karlie said...

This books sounds great!

Anonymous said...

I remember Commencement not really living up to my expectations, but I am still excited to read this one, especially since you loved it so much. I also do like alternating narrators.

Booksnyc said...

I attended a reading with the author at a bookstore in CT and she was charming! She read from the book and I was immediately captivated and purchased the book. I can't wait to settle in with it!

Jo-Jo said...

Oh my...this sounds like one that I would absolutely love! I always enjoy reading one nice summer novel and this one sounds right up my alley! Thanks for the review Julie!

Jaime said...

I finished this while on my vacation last week, and I agree 100% with your review. This book felt indulgent to me, and I enjoyed every word of it.

Beth F said...

I finally go my review up so I could read yours. Excellent job -- you really captured the essence of the novel.