Thursday, October 20, 2011

CR Review #33: Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

Maine is the story of three generations of Boston-Irish women. They live in the Boston suburbs, they summer in Southern Maine, they struggle with their Catholicism, and they drink. As a Boston-born Irish girl (who often spent the summers in the exact same neighborhood as they do in the book), I thought I'd pick it up and see if it rang true.

The Kelleher family is a typical, fictional Boston Irish family. Lots of drinking, lots of repressed emotions, lots of reliance on Catholicism, and tons of secrets. Alice is the matriarch of the family, a widow who likes to drink and doesn't hold her tongue. She goes to mass every morning, and resents her late husband for the family he left her with that she doesn't particularly want. Kathleen is one of Alice's daughters, a recovering alcoholic, divorced and living a new life (that her family doesn't try to understand) out in California. Maggie is Kathleen's daughter, a young writer living in New York who finds herself pregnant and suddenly single. And Ann-Marie is Alice's daughter-in-law, a Martha Stewart-esque housewife, always striving to look perfect on the outside (while hiding lots of imperfections on the inside, of course).

The book switches narrators with every chapter, and more or less reads like a soap opera. But that's ok -- I'm pretty sure this was released and advertised as a "summer beach read", which is exactly what it should be. Lots of gossip and family secrets are brought out and the family learns how to live with and without each other.

Of particular interest to me was the focus the book made on the terrible fire at the Coconut Grove nightclub in Boston in the 1940s, after a BC/Holy Cross football game, where hundreds of young people were killed. Growing up in Boston, we always heard stories from our older aunts and uncles about the fire and how it affected every family they knew.

If you are looking for a gossipy, quick read, then by all means, give Maine a try. Maybe next summer I'll pick up one of her other books for a light beach read.

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