Guest Reviewer: Laura Dave on Maine Laura Dave is the author of the acclaimed novels The Divorce Party
, London Is the Best City in America, and The First Husband. Her writing has appeared in
The New York Times, Glamour, Redbook, and
The New York Observer. Dave graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, and was recently named as a "Fun and Fearless Phenom" of the year by
Cosmopolitan. She lives in California.
Having spent my favorite childhood summers in Maine, I was so excited for J. Courtney Sullivan’s new novel, Maine. Would her story of three generations of Kelleher women who find themselves back at their summer home--all facing their own secret hardships and challenges--deliver? It certainly did.
It is the final summer in Maine for the Kelleher family, and its four strong-willed women are dreaming of bare feet, cocktails at sunset, and that magical ocean air. Alice is the matriarch, a regular fixture at morning mass, and an equally regular fixture in the wicker chair on the sun porch where she spends all afternoon drinking manhattans and smoking cigarettes. Maggie is Alice’s granddaughter, a thirty-two-year-old writer who has just realized she's pregnant, a fact she has yet to tell her off-again boyfriend. Maggie’s mother, Kathleen, is the prodigal daughter, camped out in California, wishing desperately to avoid the annual Kelleher showdown. And Ann Marie, Alice’s daughter-in-law, is the long-suffering martyr and avid dollhouse collector who is determined to keep this chaotic household in order.
Over the course of this summer, long-held secrets are revealed, embarrassing crushes bloom, and gallons of vodka are consumed. While Alice must face reminders of a devastating tragedy, Maggie has to decide what to do about Gabe and the baby, Kathleen comes face to face with the woman she most fears, and Ann Marie desperately tries to maintain the image of a perfect family.
Sullivan spins an unhurried and thoughtful tale that delves into familial love, romantic heartaches, tightly-held longings, and a lot of hope. I loved these women and felt grateful to join them as they returned to Maine--just in time to figure out where they needed to go next.
"You don’t want the novel to end in July. You want to stay with the Kellehers straight through to the end of August, until the sand cools, the sailboats disappear from their moorings, and every last secret has been pried up." —Lily King, The New York Times Book Review
"I have never stayed at this cottage in Maine, or any cottage in Maine, but no matter: I now feel I know what it's like being in a family that comes to the same place summer after summer, unpacking their familiar longings, slights, shorthand conversation, and ways of being together. J. Courtney Sullivan's Maine
is evocative, funny, close-quartered, and highly appealing." –Meg Wolitzer, author of The Uncoupling
“An ideal summer read. . . . Gives us . . . characters we can care about, despite their sometimes too-familiar flaws.” —USA Today
“Attentive to class distinctions and hierarchies, as well as historic pressures and family dynamics, Sullivan presents women who may be stubborn and difficult, but she does so with such compassion and humor that we, too, end up rooting for them. Even if Maine
weren't set on a beach, it would be a perfect beach book.” —Chicago Tribune
"Sullivan’s smarts shed light on topics all families deal with, but her tasteful approach on the tough ones (particularly modern-day religious issues) shine through. The cast of quirky characters will have you laughing out loud and aching for their regrets in the same chapter, pining for more pages when it comes to an end." —MarieClaire.com
’s brisk storytelling, and the unfurling of its central mystery . . . sweep readers along with gratifying sink-into-your-deck-chair ease." —Entertainment Weekly
"Curl up with this wry, absorbing novel and eavesdrop on a summer’s worth of secrets, feuds, and misunderstandings." —Parade
"Ms. Sullivan’s follow-up to her best-selling novel, Commencement
. . . follows adult children who gather at their beach cottage in Maine to sip that familial cocktail of misery and love. . . . Once the women are together, the fuse is lighted. Ms. Sullivan locks the doors and waits for the explosion." —The New York Times
"[Sullivan] validates the old adage that you can pick your friends, but you are stuck with your relatives. This is a powerful, evocative story, beautifully written to reveal raw human emotions. . . . Fresh and lively. . . . This is a well-crafted story about destructive family relationships and shameful behavior, loaded with tension, secrets, booze, marital conflict, stinging arguments, and some very funny scenes." —The New Maine Times
by J. Courtney Sullivan is a powerful novel about the ties that bind families tight, no matter how dysfunctional. Sullivan has created in the Kelleher women a cast of flawed but lovable characters so real, with their shared history of guilt and heartache and secret resentments, that I’m sure I’ll be thinking about them for a long time to come." –Amy Greene, author of Bloodroot
"Everyone has dark secrets. It’s why God invented confession and booze, two balms frequently employed in Sullivan’s well-wrought sophomore effort. Alice Brennan is Irish American through and through, the daughter of a cop, a good Catholic girl so outwardly pure that she’s a candidate for the papacy. . . . As Sullivan’s tale unfolds, there are plenty of reasons that Alice might wish to avoid taking too close a look at her life: There’s tragedy and heartbreak around every corner, as there is in every life. . . . Sullivan spins a leisurely yarn that looks into why people do the things they do—particularly when it comes to drinking and churchgoing—and why the best-laid plans are always the ones the devil monkeys with the most thoroughly. The story will be particularly meaningful to Catholic women, though there are no barriers to entry for those who are not of that faith. Mature, thoughtful, even meditative at times—but also quite entertaining." –Kirkus
"At the heart of this compelling novel of three generations of women emotionally stunted by fate and willful stubbornness is the family vacation property in Cape Neddick, ME, where the Kellehers have convened for six decades. . . . In her second novel (after Commencement
), Sullivan brilliantly lays out the case for the nearly futile task of these three generations of badly damaged Irish Catholic women seeking acceptance from one another." –Library Journal
"Sullivan creates deeply observed and believable [characters]. . . . Moody matriarch Alice, her uninvolved hippie daughter Kathleen, brown-nosing daughter-in-law Mary Ann, and newly-single, thirtysomething granddaughter Maggie each has a simmering-below-the surface inner-monologue that lights a spark, and Sullivan makes sure we can only anticipate an explosion. Sullivan gracefully meets the challenge of crafting a cast clearly pulled from the same DNA soup, without a clunk or hitch in the machinery." –Booklist