Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan was on many recommended summer reading lists this summer, and with two days to spare, I finished it this summer! (Hello fall, in two days!)
Maine is about the Kellehers, a large New England Irish Catholic family with a summer house in Maine. (What is it about Maine that inspires so many people to write fiction about it?) Alice, the matriarch of the family, spends her whole summer there, and her three children (and their children) each visit for a month of the summer. But most of Maine isn't about the summer; instead, the book is mostly character development, with each chapter told from the perspective of a rotating woman – Alice, her daughter Kathleen, Kathleen's daughter Maggie, and Alice's daughter-in-law Ann Marie.
Some people have criticized this book for not having enough plot. That didn't bother me. I liked the character development. I enjoyed learning about what had brought each of these women to where they were at the start of the summer in question – how their relationships with each other and the rest of their family had shaped them into the women they are.
Maine is full of conflict, as most of the Kellehers don't get along, particularly with Alice, a difficult person. But by shifting perspective, often when describing the same events, Sullivan successfully makes each of these women sympathetic. None of them is perfect, of course, but they each have virtue, and often it is simply the others that bring out the worst (and very occasionally the best) in each other. I liked Sullivan's exploration of family dynamics - complete with secrets, grudges and mischaracterizations – and the shifting shades of gray that make them interesting.
If you need a fast-moving plot, you may be frustrated with the analytical, foundation-building pace of Maine. But if you like meaty family dramas (think Jennifer Haigh or Sue Miller), this may be the book for you. I recommend it.
[You may be looking for a plot, FTC, but you won't find it in this post – I bought this one, and paid retail! In a bookstore!]