11 July 2011

Review: Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

Three generations of Irish-Catholic Kelleher women grew up in different times, under different circumstances, and with different opportunities and expectations. Yet Alice (the greatest generation), her daughter Kathleen (hippie-inspired baby boomer), her daughter-in-law Ann Marie (yuppie-inspired baby boomer), and her granddaughter Maggie (generation X) each struggle with the same universal women's issues of the last century.

Rather than seeking mutual support and commiseration, the Kelleher women instead focus on their own private guilts, deep resentments, self-inflicted martyrdom, and need for control, preventing them from making meaningful connections. When unexpectedly reunited at the family's summer home in coastal southern Maine, the four are forced to confront hard truths about themselves and their relationships.

J. Courtney Sullivan's Maine is the story of twentieth-century women encapsulated in the Kelleher family. While individual issues, opportunities, and answers vary, every woman has had to come to terms with the questions of motherhood, marriage, and personal careers and fulfillment. And the manner in which a woman handles her own situation can have repercussions through the generations.

For example, a family tragedy in Alice's young life shaped her adulthood, creating a barrier that few, including her children, could breach. Kathleen, vowing to be everything her mother wasn't, smothers her children with too much friendship and moves to California to be an earthworm farmer. Maggie, a thirty-something writer living in New York, wishes Kathleen could have been more like other kids' mothers and has trouble understanding boundaries and personal privacy. Ann Marie, somewhat embarrassed by her upbringing, strives to rise above her own family and to prove to her in-laws that she is every bit as good as, if not better than, they are.

Through the alternating voices of these four women, Sullivan explores several other large issues, especially how the importance of the Church changed for women over time. The Kellehers don't discuss or ponder the gap between Alice's almost unquestioning belief and devotion and Maggie's indifference, making it almost impossible for the generations to understand each other.

Two other major themes are guilt and alcohol, both of which profoundly affect the Kelleher family dynamics. Maine also brings up the issues of caring for aging parents and outward image versus inner reality.

Alice, Kathleen, Ann Marie, and Maggie are in different life stages, but not one of them arrives in Maine that summer willing to take a frank look at herself or to take responsibility for her own actions. Readers stick with the Kellehers, hoping that despite the conflicts, the women will find at least some moments of acceptance--of themselves and of each other.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Random House Audio, 17 hr, 20 min) read by Ann Marie Lee. Lee's Irish-Boston accents added to the ambiance of the novel. Although she has a tendency to be an enthusiastic narrator, Lee well conveyed the underlying tension that colors the Kelleher family. My full audio review will be published by AudioFile.

Give it to me quickly: Three generations of women from the Irish-Catholic Kelleher family unexpectedly converge on the family's Maine summer home, forcing each to confront longstanding guilt, resentments, secrets, and disagreements.

Maine at Powell's
Maine at Book Depository
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Published by Random House / Knopf, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780307595126
YTD: 64
Source: Review (see review policy).
Rating: A
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea 7/11/11, 7:05 AM  

This sounds like a perfect summer treat! Glad the audio worked out well (I've requested it from the library).

Felicia 7/11/11, 8:40 AM  

I've read Maine and while I liked it I wondered if I was missing something at the end. I didn't feel "complete" if that makes sense. I was attracted to the setting, that is for sure. I found myself wishing for a little more.

Enjoyed your review.

Booksnyc 7/11/11, 8:46 AM  

I heard the author speak a few weeks ago and she read from the novel - it was a passage that focused on Alice - and you could tell Alice was a formidable character! I picked up a copy of the book and a can't wait to read it!

Beth Hoffman 7/11/11, 9:33 AM  

This book is on my list, though heaven only knows when I'll get to it! I'm glad that you enjoyed it.

Zibilee 7/11/11, 9:57 AM  

This seems to be one of the most talked about books of the summer, and I do think it would be an interesting read. I am glad that you enjoyed it. I am always envious of those that can pack away an audio like this in no time flat. I can't ever seem to manage that!

Kaye 7/11/11, 9:57 AM  

Books set in Maine always appeal to me and this one sounds like a good one. Glad you enjoyed it.

Martha@Hey, I want to read that 7/11/11, 10:41 AM  

Both my sister and I have been dying to read this book. I look forward to reading your review. I hadn't thought about listening but now I'll have to add this to my list.

caite 7/11/11, 1:26 PM  

I thought I would love this book..I love Maine, I am an Irish Catholic...but I read the first chapter and for some reason was not at all taken with it. The characters seemed a bit stereotypical maybe..

bermudaonion 7/11/11, 2:53 PM  

This sounds like the perfect book for you! I can't wait to read it.

Bonnie 7/11/11, 4:28 PM  

This is on my wishlist, I can't wait to read it and I'm glad to hear that the audio version has good narration. It sounds like it would be a good book to listen to. I was a bit confused by your review, do you have to subscribe on Audiofile to read the full review? I wasn't sure if you recommended or liked it.

Beth F 7/11/11, 4:38 PM  

Sorry, Bonnie. I rated Maine an "A" which is very high praise indeed.

As I mentioned here, I enjoyed the audio edition and thought Lee's accents added to the experience and that she rendered the mood well.

You do not need to subscribe to AudioFile to see reviews on their site (at least I don't think you do). I'm not sure my audio review is up on the site yet.

The review you see here is longer than the review for the magazine, which focuses primarily on the audiobook experience.

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) 7/11/11, 5:44 PM  

I JUST, like five minutes ago, started Commencement, aslo by Sullivan. I'm excited that Maine is great. Hopefully I'll get to that, this summer if this works well for me.

Julie P. 7/11/11, 8:50 PM  

It was a very good one, wasn't it?

Jennifer 7/11/11, 9:34 PM  

I've seen this book on a bunch of blogs and most of the reviews have been pretty positive. I'm thinking that I will definitely love this one. I happen to really enjoy books that explore women's issues and this book sounds like it does that fantastically.

Anonymous,  7/11/11, 9:59 PM  

I didn't enjoy Commencement as much as I expected, but I still want to give this one a chance!

Cath 7/12/11, 2:06 AM  

I had an extreme negative reaction to Commencement, but you have really made me want to read this one. That cover looks like summer personified!

Jennifer | Mrs Q Book Addict 7/12/11, 10:28 AM  

I keep reading about this one. It sounds really good. I'll have to add it to my wishlist.

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti 7/12/11, 4:41 PM  

This sounds like a very interesting book, one that I could relate to. Thanks, Beth!

Bonnie 7/12/11, 8:57 PM  

Beth-Thanks for clarifying your rating! I didn't see the fine print at the bottom, I need new glasses...jeesh, sorry that I missed that information! I'm glad that you rated it an A. It is on my wishlist and I was considering listening to it but I don't think that my library has a copy yet.

Anonymous,  7/15/11, 12:48 AM  

I'm so glad you listened/liked this on audio. I've been wanting to read this sucker for a few weeks and I always need good new audiobooks for boring, trafficky car rides.

Tina 7/15/11, 10:01 AM  

Terrific review. I just finished my review this week on Tutu's Two Cents, but you put me to shame. I too really enjoyed this much more than I expected to. I think it's one of the summer's sleepers.

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