Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan
Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan is the perfect novel to read right through on a sunny day on the dock – or a rainy day in the cottage. This is chick-lit with intelligence – but chick lit all the same.
Maine takes us to the summer home of the Kelleher family – in Maine, of course. The property was won in a poker game, just after the Second World War, by Daniel Kelleher. He and his wife, Alice, built a simple cottage there – another house was added by their son, Patrick, years later to house his parents while he and his sisters, and their families took over the original cottage.
Daniel Kelleher passed away a few years ago, Alice now spends much of the year at the summer home on her own, with the three adult children dividing the season among them. Patrick and his wife, Ann Marie, are the alpha couple of the bunch, and very much see this property as their own – fully expecting to inherit, and buy out the others. Ann Marie takes on the role of alpha daughter-in-law, spending more time with Alice than her own daughters. There are also a number of grandchildren – most now adults, but the one who figures most in the novel is Maggie, Kathleen’s daughter. Kathleen and her mother, Alice, speak seldom and have not seen each other in some years.
Kathleen, once an alcoholic, as are most of her family – more or less – moved to the west coast where she lives with a man decidedly different from her own family. Kathleen has made a life for herself – one she does not want damaged by her family and their concerns. But, when Kathleen believes that Maggie needs her motherly presence she takes a flight home to the east coast to support her daughter.
Alice is not an easy woman – she has carried around a sense of guilt about a long ago tragedy. She is now finding that there is more and more solace to be found in her Catholic faith – and from the friendship she has developed with a young priest. Alice was not a happy mother, and her children suffered from her drinking and disregard – and her constant need to look her best at all times – to never weigh an extra ounce – appearances above all else. A tough way to live – and a tough childhood for her children.
We get to know Ann Marie – a stay-at-home Mom with her children now grown. She makes dolls houses – one she entered into a competition has won a prize and she is at work on an even more elaborate little house. Her houses are perfect, with teeny tiny perfect tea towels and blankets for teeny tiny perfect beds – all so much more perfect than her marriage and her children. Ann Marie is an intelligent woman and she is a person we see develop and come to terms with her own prejudices and errors in judgment – and by the end of this novel she was a person I came to care for, after thinking she was no more than a selfish, shallow woman in the beginning. And, this is what raises this book above the usual chick-lit novel, the characters become full-bodied people. The difficulties that the author brings into the lives of her characters are ones that we all face – or know those who do – and the solutions are realistic. The characters develop into people we can see ourselves liking – even if they might remind us all too much of some of our own family members – or even ourselves.
So, find yourself a comfortable place to spend the day, and settle in with the Kellehers, in Maine.