Saturday, July 16, 2011

Review: Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

Author: J. Courtney Sullivan
Publisher Format: Knopf (2011), Hardcover, 400 pages
.....also audio - Books on Tape, 17 hours, 14 minutes
Narrator: Ann Marie Lee
Subject: Irish Catholic dysfunctional family relations
Setting: Boston, Ogunquit Maine
Genre: fiction
Source: public library audio download

This is not a novel about Maine, although the gorgeous beaches of Ogunquit form a backdrop for most of the story. It is a story of the Kelleher family, Irish Catholics who hailed from Boston and summered in Maine.  The matriarch Alice, is a recovering alcoholic, tautly holding on to every piece of tradition and superstition she inherited from her family, the Church, and society in general. 

The story gives us a summer when three generations-- mother, daughters (and daughter-in-law), granddaughters-- come together in bursting clashes of culture, expectations and memories of unhappiness past.  This is a family that takes the words dysfunction and grudge to new heights.  Alice is a grande dame who is epic in her ability to ignore everyone else around her. Since her husband died, she has returned to her alcoholic past.  Daughter Kathleen, who lives (in the unholy state of sin) with her partner in California raising worms for their excrement, has vowed never to interact with the family or set foot in Maine again.  She comes however in response to her daughter Maggie's cry for psychological help in the midst of a crisis with her own relationship.

The apple-polishing daughter-in-law, who fawns over Alice in hopes of inheriting the compound, is a personality guaranteed to produce finger-on-the-chalkboard chills in all who must interact with her.  Each woman has a secret she is holding onto.  Each woman holds a grudge that is standing in the way of growing.

It's a dazzling, bold, deeply involved novel in which the characters are well drawn, the individual stories and secrets crawl to a rather transparent (to the reader anyway) conclusion.  It is summer reading at its best.   As an audio, it's very well done. If  had one gripe, it's that the blurb doesn't really match the story.  Just ignore the jacket and read the book.  I was actually able to get the audio before I was able to get the print copy from the library. It's one that is going into my permanent collection shortly.

No matter your preferred format, don't miss it!


  1. There was a review earlier this summer for it, so I'm already on the list at the library! Can't wait!

  2. Sounds like just a perfect summer treat! Nice review Tina.

  3. I read the first chapter of this one online and was not really thrilled, but maybe I did not give it enough of a chance.

  4. I enjoyed "Maine" quite a bit, though I did find the nearly encyclopedic family tree a bit confusing at first. Once I got into the book, though, I kept reading eagerly, enjoying the intimate look at a family that seems, at times, on the verge of exploding outward even as they converge on one location. I have tried not to give away key plot elements here, in part because I want to avoid spoilers. But I've done so, too, because this novel is not about the plot so much as it is about the characters. They're the ones who drive the novel, and author Sullivan does a very good job of distinguishing them precisely so that we really get to know them well.


Welcome, thanks for stopping by. Now that you've heard our two cents, perhaps you have a few pennies to throw into the discussion. Due to a bunch more anonymous spam getting through, I've had to disallow anonymous comments. I try to respond to all comments posing a question, but may not always get to you right away.