Book Review: Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

Genres: Adult fiction, contemporary.

The Kelleher family has been coming to Maine for sixty years. Their beachfront cottage, won on a barroom bet after the war, is a place where children run in packs, showers are taken outdoors, and threadbare sweaters are shared on chilly nights. It is also a place where cocktail hour follows morning mass, nosy grandchildren snoop in drawers, and ancient grudges simmer below the surface. As Maggie, Kathleen, and Anne Marie descend on Alice and the cottage, each woman brings her own baggage—a secret pregnancy, a terrible crush, and a deeply held resentment for misdeeds of the past.

I’ve had a little obsession with Maine ever since Taylor Swift’s single, Mine, was filmed there (in Kennebunkport, to be more specific). I watched behind-the-scenes videos and decided it was pretty much my ideal place to live – sections of Maine looked to me a real-life Stars Hollow. My friend and I even fantasised about (and, well, planned) a road trip from Maine to New York. We talked about how different it would be from where we currently live. So, when I saw a novel titled Maine, I just had to read it. How could I not?

Maine pretty much confirmed my suspicions that Maine is a perfect place to live – the story mostly takes place in a beautiful beachside cottage. The novel focuses around the lives of four Irish-American women: Alice (the grandmother), Kathleen (the daughter), Maggie (the granddaughter) and Anne-Marie (the daughter-in-law) and each character is able to tell their story through alternating chapters.

If I had to choose, my two favourite characters would be Maggie and Alice. I empathised with Maggie the most. I was interested in her story, her life and found her to be refreshingly upbeat, given her circumstances. I felt genuine frustration at Gabe, her boyfriend, and was rooting for her all the way. As for Alice, she isn’t an obvious character for me to like. She holds old-fashioned prejudices and is extremely religious (whereas I’m an atheist), but I was completely engrossed in her history. I empathised with her at times, felt teary at others, and smiled at the many awkward situations that she got herself into. She also has a hilariously subtle sense of humour. Without giving too much away, I had hoped the ending would turn out a little differently, but I enjoyed seeing Alice grow and change.

Maine is what you’d call a “beach book”. It’s absolutely perfect for reading in the summertime and it made me want to leave rainy London for somewhere more remote and sun-drenched. I often didn’t feel like I was reading a fictional novel but was actually watching generations of happiness and sadness, conflicts and resolutions. The book goes right back to WWII and up until the present day. It’s exciting watching four women grow up and explore their identity as individuals as well as who they are as part of a large Irish Catholic family. This is a book that I’ll be recommending to other women in my family; realistic family drama can be appreciated at any age.

This book was obtained as an eGalley from Knopf Doubleday.

My Rating: ★★★★