four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
54-Sept-Oct-2011
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0

A-MaineJ. Courtney Sullivan wrote her debut novel, Commencement ( 4 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2009), while working at the editorial department of the New York Times. Maine is the follow-up.

The Story: Three generations of Kelleher women descend on the family's beachfront cottage in Maine, each weighed down with her own emotional baggage. Alice, the sharp-tongued matriarch, continues to brood over a decades-old family tragedy. Her daughter, Kathleen, is a recovering alcoholic and California worm farmer who resents her mother's constant disapproval. Anne Marie, Alice's repressed daughter-in-law, builds doll houses and nurses her own private disappointments. And Maggie, Kathleen's daughter, wonders how to tell her family about an unplanned pregnancy.
Knopf. 400 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9780307595126

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Sullivan narrates the tale with verve and precision, drawing the reader into a compelling portrait of a specific family as it changes with the values and accidents of each era. But, as each woman decides her path, she represents the complicated blend of guilt and freedom experienced by most of us no matter what our era, family or religion." Beth Taylor

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]he women complement and contradict each other in ways that are both predictable and surprising, but seldom dull. ... By the time Sullivan finishes the lovely, bittersweet final chapter, you're spent but contented--ready to leave the beach, but with fond memories of the experience." Elysa Gardner

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"If the three generations of guilt-ridden, backbiting, willful, scheming Kelleher women in J. Courtney Sullivan's new novel could just learn to keep their mouths shut, even part of the time, their lives wouldn't be nearly so tumultuous. Of course, Maine wouldn't be nearly so hilarious, either." Howard Frank Mosher

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Many novels begin with a full head of steam, only to peter out halfway through. ... Maine, conversely, starts slowly, but once it gets going, it does not falter." Lily King

Oregonian 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Its ‘big reveal'--the true reason behind Alice's caustic persona, which is foreshadowed throughout the novel--is actually a bit of a letdown. But the dialogue is witty, the clip is brisk and the atmosphere is spot-on." Christine Selk

Critical Summary

It's always fun to read about someone else's dysfunctional family, and the Irish Catholic Kelleher clan is no different. The pleasure of Sullivan's sophomore effort stems from the interaction between the four women, whose flaws are reminiscent of our own relatives and whose petty interactions are very funny. And although one critic felt the book got off to a slow start, the overall reaction was positive. "By the time you're through with Maine, you'll be craving a lobster roll and a trip to Kennebunkport" (Oregonian).

Also by the Author

Commencement (2009): A dorm assignment throws together four very different women during their freshman year at Smith College. Sullivan follows this family-of-sorts as they grow into their late 20s.