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Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

Welcome readers, it’s Becca here, with my first review of Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan.  This book is a summer beach read if there ever was one.   The novel is told from the point of view of four Kelleher women of a large Irish Catholic family as they converge on the family beach house in Maine.

The story’s main characters are: Alice, the proper, yet wine slugging, matriarch of the family, her daughter Kathleen, a recovering alcoholic, Kathleen’s daughter Maggie, recently pregnant and even more recently single, and Alice’s daughter-in-law Ann Marie, a classically repressed housewife.  Typical of any large family, each woman has her own conflicts and resentments with the other, but each are inexplicably drawn back to the family fold despite each new disappointment it brings.  Trust me readers, no matter how dysfunctional your family is, you’ll feel lucky to have them after reading this novel!

As far as technique, I really liked the author’s use of flashbacks.  It was fascinating that the same story was told four different ways through lens of each woman.  The characters were often predictable and somewhat stereotyped (the recovering alcoholic is into mantras and yoga, while the repressed housewife sleeps in a separate bedroom as her husband but still prepares all his meals for him).  Several of the examples are repetitive, such as the five anecdotes in a row that follow the same trajectory typical of Maggie’s relationship – an explosive fight, followed by abandonment, followed by a sexually fueled, tentative, make up.  Additionally, the ending was stitched up a little too cleanly and abruptly for my taste, giving it an unrealistic feel.

Nonetheless, some aspects of this book were really great.  The overall feeling is no matter how dysfunctional a family (and the Kellehers take the cake when it comes to dysfunction) at the end of the day, a family comes together and supports one another when it’s really needed.  Sullivan explores the role of motherhood and the sacrifices that go with it throughout three generations, which I think is always relevant to a female reader (everyone has a mother).  Though it won’t likely be a critically acclaimed work, it’s a diverting read.  ★★★

If you’re interested in checking this book out, it can be found here or, as always, at your local library!

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