Thursday, January 2, 2014

book review: Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

The backstory: After liking J. Courtney Sullivan's first novel, Commencement (my review), I finally got around to reading her second novel, Maine. 

The basics: Maine traces the story of the Kelleher family one summer at their Maine beachhouse. Four women share narration: Alice, the matriarch, whose husband Daniel, died ten years ago; Alice's daughter  Kathleen, who lives with her boyfriend and runs a worm farm in California; Alice's daughter-in-law Anne Marie, who has become obsessed with dollhouses; and Kathleen's daughter Maggie, who is thirty-two, unmarried and pregnant.

My thoughts: In recent years I've realized how much I enjoy family sagas. I've always enjoyed multiple narrators, so Maine was right up my alley. I love the way Sullivan writes, and she's grew as a writer between Commencement and Maine. There's a maturity to Maine and its characters that I quite enjoyed. While Maine takes place over the span of a little over a month, the action is split equally between the present and explaining the family's history. In many cases, the four narrators had quite varied perspectives on the same events, which made the reader the most knowledgable person in the room. This technique can frustrate me to no end, but Sullivan does it well--the knowledge helped explain each character's perspectives and actions more thoroughly.

Sullivan's characters have interior monologues that kept me laughing out loud: ""What on earth would we talk about?” Arlo asked, as if most people interacted with their families for the riveting conversation." While it's expressed in humor in this passage, the theme of how, why, and when we spend time with family is a powerful theme in this novel.

Favorite passage:  "The joy and spontaneity of summers past were gone now. Daniel’s death had ended them as a family. Each had pulled away from the others, and at some point without realizing it, Alice had gone from the matriarch—keeper of the wisdom and the order—to the old lady you had to look in on before the day’s fun could begin."

The verdict: Maine is not a book that made me wish I were vacationing at their Maine beach house alongside the Kelleher family, but I loved the day I spent with them. I kept changing my mind about which narrator or storyline was favorite, which is a testament to Sullivan's characters.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 530 pages
Publication date: June 4, 2011
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Maine from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit J. Courtney Sullivan's website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!


  1. I really liked this one when I read it and it has stayed with me since.

    1. I've enjoyed both of her novels I've read and now am even more excited to make time for The Engagements soon.


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