Review: Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

July 21, 2011 Knopf, Literary Fiction, Review, Women's Fiction 14


  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (June 14, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0307595129
  • Source: Personal Copy

The Kelleher women are an extremely strong-minded set of women.  Alice is the matriarch; she spends all her time at Mass or enjoying a cigarette and a manhattan on her sun porch.  Kathleen, Alice’s daughter, now resides in California where she runs a worm farm.  She won’t admit it, but she moved clear across the country to avoid her family, namely her mother.  Kathleen’s daughter is Maggie, a young New Yorker, a writer, and pregnant.  Her trip to Maine is supposed to serve as a place for her to write and contemplate her future. Ann Marie, Alice’s daughter-in-law, is an avid (obsessive?) doll house designer & collector.  Her soul purpose in life seems to be to keep the tumultuous Kelleher family in order.

Each summer, the family enjoys making the trek to their summer home in Maine. Oh, they don’t enjoy it together, each branch of the family is allowed a month to visit the home. They do not realize it, but this is their last summer in their beautiful, memory-ridden oasis. 

The three generations of women wind up at the family home simultaneously.  Normally, this would be the recipe for chaos, and in a sense it was. The women, both jointly and individually, face their worst fears: Alice must come to terms with a horrible family tragedy; Maggie must decide which direction her future will take, and who she will be sharing it with; Kathleen has to finally confront her mother; and Ann Marie must face the fact that her perfect family facade is fading. Each of the characters tells the story from their own point of view, allowing the reader to get a unique, and perhaps more honest, view of the family dynamics. When the family learns that their cherished Maine home might not in fact be theirs any longer, a battle begins to simmer.

Never before have I read a book that captures my soul like Maine has.  Frankly, I read so many glowing reviews of this book I was skeptical; could it really be THAT good? In short, YES!

The characters in Maine remind the reader of everyday people in their lives, or perhaps in a sense, themselves.  These women were genuine, full of flaws therefore one can’t help but love them. Despite these flaws, there wasn’t a single character I didn’t enjoy or appreciate.  I wanted to drop everything, hop in my car, and join them, spending my summer alongside them.

What really drew me to this book is the fact the author touches on topics faced by many families: unwed mothers, alcoholism, depression.  She does it in an honest way, nothing is shielded or guarded.  I appreciate authors who aren’t afraid to do this; I don’t want a sugar-coated life, I want the real thing. That said, despite other reviews, I did not find this book to be dark or depressing, but rather uplifting.  It reminded me to keep in sight what is important in life, never to abandon my dreams, to cherish my family and friends around me.

I’ve been recommending this book as the perfect beach read; you won’t want to get up from your spot under the warm sun after reading this terrifically engaging tale.  So be sure to put on a lot of sun screen before starting this book for I guarantee you won’t be able to put it down. Highly, highly, recommended, one of my favorite books of the summer!

14 Responses to “Review: Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan”

  1. Beth F
    Twitter: BethFishReads

    PS — great review — the characters and the problems they face are true to life.

  2. Care
    Twitter: BkClubCare

    gah, every review these days tempts me to suggest the book for book club! I *really* dislike having to suggest titles now that I want to read EVERYTHING! Sigh….

  3. bermudaonion (Kathy)
    Twitter: bermudaonion

    My book club is reading this in September, so I bought a copy last week. It’s all I can do to not read it right now. If I read it too early, I won’t remember enough of the details to discuss it.

  4. Jaime
    Twitter: ibeforem

    I feel the same way (and, I actually read some of it on the beach)! I really need to get my review written.

  5. Charlie
    Twitter: bitsyblingbooks

    I’m convinced! Going on my TBR list. Thanks for the rec. I probably wouldn’t have picked this out on my own — but now I’m dying to read it. 🙂


  6. Beth(bookaholicmom)

    I was ready to pass this book by. I thought it sounded a bit too depressing. I have yet to see any negative reviews for it so now I have to read it! Thanks for the great review. Now I won’t miss a good read.

    • Jenn
      Twitter: jennbookshelves

      Oh, no, not depressing at all! Quite uplifting, actually!

  7. Nicole Langan
    Twitter: TributeBooks

    I’ve been meaning to read this one – thanks to your glowing recommendation, I’ll be sure to add to the top of by TBR list.

  8. Literate Housewife
    Twitter: lithousewife

    Looking forward to this coming in at the library. With the exception of one review saying that it starts off a little slow, all I’ve heard are good things.