Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan is a book I received from Amazon's Vine program. I had seen this book on lists of summer beach reads, and was looking forward to reading it - especially since Sullivan's debut novel is still sitting on my TBR stack.
Maine is a book about three generations of women. Alice, the matriarch is in her eighties, living alone in her beach house in Maine. She isn't a lovable character, yet when she shares her story about her own life - especially the loss of her sister Mary for which she blames herself, it is hard not to have a little more compassion for Alice.
Her daughter Kathleen, has never been close to her mother. She and her common-law husband Arlo live in California, far from the family, and have not been back to Maine for a summer in a decade. Kathleen's daughter Maggie finds herself pregnant and newly broken up with her boyfriend. She comes up to Maine to spend some time there in the cottage next to her grandmother's place. And Ann Marie, married to Kathleen's brother Patrick is also in Maine, coming to spend some extra time with Alice because she is worried that Kathleen is not coming and her aging mother-in-law will be alone for too long. Kathleen has always felt a bit irritated with Ann Marie, perhaps measuring her own job as a mother against Ann Marie's, and always aware that Ann Marie and Patrick have more than she does.
Each woman narrates various chapters in this novel, making it easy to identify with the various attitudes and dramas that unfold. I gave this book a high rating on Amazon, and genuinely enjoyed each and every page. Other reviewers were not so kind, finding fault with the characters, believing them to be too whiney, too mean, too self-involved. What attracted me to these characters is that they seemed real. I could understand why Kathleen felt as she did, even though I didn't necessarily like her. I could see how Ann Marie felt alone and worthless after devoting her entire life to raising her children. Alice was also not a likeable character, and yet, there were things about her that I did find I could relate to. A blurb for this book indicates that this book is funny, and yet I would not categorize Maine in this way at all. This is a women's fiction novel. Sullivan explores the complex relationships in families, the way ideas and beliefs about others develop over time. Even as I turned the last page on this book, I will continue to think about these characters and will look for more from Sullivan in the future.