“Maine”, by J.Courtney Sullivan, is largely the story of Alice Kelleher, a very direct, headstrong and outspoken matriarch, and three generations of her family who seem to become weaker with each successive generation. She is a devoted Catholic, driven by an almost religious fanaticism to do her duty and perform some act of kindness before she dies, in order to make up for her sins and ensure that she is not consigned to Hell. She is known for her sharpness of tongue, coldness, drinking and sudden mood swings. Her husband is a gentler man who restrains her and keeps her centered and in check. The characters in this family are examined with illuminating detail, and their life experiences are explored. Their differing and misguided perceptions of life’s events, that they all seemed to experience and interpret differently, are exposed and dissected. Their secrets are bared, and when exposed, they cause ripples throughout the extended clan.
The audio was done well, with an expressive reader who enlightened the listener in her telling of a tale that illustrates family dysfunction and flawed judgment in all of the characters as they interacted with each other and the world. The story is told in the voices of three generations of the women of the family: Alice, Kathleen, Ann Marie and Maggie. Each chapter dwelt on one character at a time, rotating from one to another throughout the book, as the events which determined the paths they chose to take in life were uncovered.
Although, at first, the picture might seem to be of a perfect extended, multigenerational family, living a nirvana-like existence, enjoying summers in their beachfront cottage in a small, insular community which was once an artist’s colony in Cape Neddick, Maine, the reader soon discovers that each of the characters brings with them a raft of troubles and predisposed conclusions, arising from their lifestyles and backgrounds, and the situation is not what it seems to be on the surface. When that surface is scratched, using the memories and experiences of each, the characters are exposed with all of their warts and foibles, as they developed into active members of this dysfunctional, family group dynamic.
This family harbors many secrets and, therefore, holds secret animosities toward each other which are most often based on misconceptions about events. This creates giant rifts between family members who hold grudges that continue with the passage of time, and continue to encourage vindictive behavior toward each other. In the end, some do metamorphose into better people; others remain their same intransigent, stubborn selves, continuing to exhibit discordant behavior wreaking havoc upon the peaceful coexistence of the family. Each of them lives in a fantasy world of their own creation.
All of the complications of life, in general, are examined: sibling rivalry, faith, religion, loss, illness, tragedy, love, homosexuality, criminality, neglect, alcoholism, relationships, marriage, motherhood, fatherhood, and parenting. This intergenerational saga explores a slew of raw emotions. The reader will, at some point, identify with many of the emotions that are exposed: nostalgia, sadness, joy, humor, disbelief, shock, anger, and even frustration, as they identify with many of the experiences and feelings of the characters. For instance, I was very familiar with the geographic areas the book describes, the towns and the atmosphere, and it aroused childhood memories of a simpler time and adult memories of a more complicated one. Because it covers three generations, there will be something for each reader to identify with, within a particular place or time period. The reader’s life and ordinary experiences will often come uncomfortably close to home to those of the novel’s characters. This book is an interesting read which will, in the end, leave the reader with a question about Alice’s ultimate choices and fate.