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Maine [Audiobook, Unabridged] [Audio CD]

J. Courtney Sullivan , Ann Marie Lee
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 14 2011
In her best-selling debut, Commencement, J. Courtney Sullivan explored the complicated and contradictory landscape of female friendship. Now, in her highly anticipated second novel, Sullivan takes us into even richer territory, introducing four unforgettable women who have nothing in common but the fact that, like it or not, they’re family.

For the Kellehers, Maine is a place where children run in packs, showers are taken outdoors, and old Irish songs are sung around a piano. Their beachfront property, won on a barroom bet after the war, sits on three acres of sand and pine nestled between stretches of rocky coast, with one tree bearing the initials “A.H.” At the cottage, built by Kelleher hands, cocktail hour follows morning mass, nosy grandchildren snoop in drawers, and decades-old grudges simmer beneath the surface.

As three generations of Kelleher women descend on the property one summer, each brings her own hopes and fears. Maggie is thirty-two and pregnant, waiting for the perfect moment to tell her imperfect boyfriend the news; Ann Marie, a Kelleher by marriage, is channeling her domestic frustration into a dollhouse obsession and an ill-advised crush; Kathleen, the black sheep, never wanted to set foot in the cottage again; and Alice, the matriarch at the center of it all, would trade every floorboard for a chance to undo the events of one night, long ago.

By turns wickedly funny and achingly sad, Maine unveils the sibling rivalry, alcoholism, social climbing, and Catholic guilt at the center of one family, along with the abiding, often irrational love that keeps them coming back, every summer, to Maine and to each other.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Review

"You don’t want the novel to end in July. You want to stay with the Kellehers straight through to the end of August, until the sand cools, the sailboats disappear from their moorings, and every last secret has been pried up." —Lily King, The New York Times Book Review

"I have never stayed at this cottage in Maine, or any cottage in Maine, but no matter: I now feel I know what it's like being in a family that comes to the same place summer after summer, unpacking their familiar longings, slights, shorthand conversation, and ways of being together. J. Courtney Sullivan's Maine is evocative, funny, close-quartered, and highly appealing." –Meg Wolitzer, author of The Uncoupling

“An ideal summer read. . . . Gives us . . . characters we can care about, despite their sometimes too-familiar flaws.” —USA Today
 
“Attentive to class distinctions and hierarchies, as well as historic pressures and family dynamics, Sullivan presents women who may be stubborn and difficult, but she does so with such compassion and humor that we, too, end up rooting for them. Even if Maine weren't set on a beach, it would be a perfect beach book.” —Chicago Tribune

"Sullivan’s smarts shed light on topics all families deal with, but her tasteful approach on the tough ones (particularly modern-day religious issues) shine through. The cast of quirky characters will have you laughing out loud and aching for their regrets in the same chapter, pining for more pages when it comes to an end." —MarieClaire.com

"Maine’s brisk storytelling, and the unfurling of its central mystery . . . sweep readers along with gratifying sink-into-your-deck-chair ease." —Entertainment Weekly

"Curl up with this wry, absorbing novel and eavesdrop on a summer’s worth of secrets, feuds, and misunderstandings." —Parade magazine

"Ms. Sullivan’s follow-up to her best-selling novel, Commencement . . . follows adult children who gather at their beach cottage in Maine to sip that familial cocktail of misery and love. . . . Once the women are together, the fuse is lighted. Ms. Sullivan locks the doors and waits for the explosion." —The New York Times

"[Sullivan] validates the old adage that you can pick your friends, but you are stuck with your relatives. This is a powerful, evocative story, beautifully written to reveal raw human emotions. . . . Fresh and lively. . . . This is a well-crafted story about destructive family relationships and shameful behavior, loaded with tension, secrets, booze, marital conflict, stinging arguments, and some very funny scenes." —The New Maine Times

"Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan is a powerful novel about the ties that bind families tight, no matter how dysfunctional. Sullivan has created in the Kelleher women a cast of flawed but lovable characters so real, with their shared history of guilt and heartache and secret resentments, that I’m sure I’ll be thinking about them for a long time to come." –Amy Greene, author of Bloodroot

"Everyone has dark secrets. It’s why God invented confession and booze, two balms frequently employed in Sullivan’s well-wrought sophomore effort. Alice Brennan is Irish American through and through, the daughter of a cop, a good Catholic girl so outwardly pure that she’s a candidate for the papacy. . . . As Sullivan’s tale unfolds, there are plenty of reasons that Alice might wish to avoid taking too close a look at her life: There’s tragedy and heartbreak around every corner, as there is in every life. . . . Sullivan spins a leisurely yarn that looks into why people do the things they do—particularly when it comes to drinking and churchgoing—and why the best-laid plans are always the ones the devil monkeys with the most thoroughly. The story will be particularly meaningful to Catholic women, though there are no barriers to entry for those who are not of that faith. Mature, thoughtful, even meditative at times—but also quite entertaining." –Kirkus

"At the heart of this compelling novel of three generations of women emotionally stunted by fate and willful stubbornness is the family vacation property in Cape Neddick, ME, where the Kellehers have convened for six decades. . . . In her second novel (after Commencement), Sullivan brilliantly lays out the case for the nearly futile task of these three generations of badly damaged Irish Catholic women seeking acceptance from one another." –Library Journal

"Sullivan creates deeply observed and believable [characters]. . . . Moody matriarch Alice, her uninvolved hippie daughter Kathleen, brown-nosing daughter-in-law Mary Ann, and newly-single, thirtysomething granddaughter Maggie each has a simmering-below-the surface inner-monologue that lights a spark, and Sullivan makes sure we can only anticipate an explosion. Sullivan gracefully meets the challenge of crafting a cast clearly pulled from the same DNA soup, without a clunk or hitch in the machinery." –Booklist

 


From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

J. Courtney Sullivan is the author of the New York Times best-selling novel Commencement. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, the Chicago Tribune, New York, Elle, Glamour, Allure, and Men’s Vogue, among others. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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3.2 out of 5 stars
3.2 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
As a young woman during World War II, Alice Kelleher had always intended to live on her own and be an artist, but after her sister Mary is killed in a fire, Alice abandons her dreams. Blaming herself for Mary's death, she decides to atone by living the life Mary aspired to: marriage, children and devotion to the Catholic church. Alice's selfishness and love of solitude make her poorly suited to motherhood, and her guilt and unhappiness with her choice lead to her alcoholism. Alice, now the widowed matriarch of the Kelleher family, is a bitter, vindictive, emotionally constipated woman who has mastered controlling her family through criticism, nagging and ownership of their summer retreat, a gorgeous three-acre oceanfront lot with house and cottage at the Maine seashore.

Alice's daughter-in-law, Ann Marie, has done her best, for the 35 years of her marriage, to earn a place in the family and Alice's affections. Deep down, Ann Marie has no great affection for the Kellehers, but she is a good Irish Catholic girl----and Ann Marie covets that summer home.

Alice's first child, Kathleen, broke away from her family after her beloved father's death, and moved to California. Kathleen has been on the wagon for over 20 years and has achieved relative serenity through a good relationship with her partner of 10 years, yoga, healthy living and various self-help mantras, not to mention keeping away from her poisonous mother and the unhealthy rivalry she has with Ann Marie. Kathleen's daughter, Maggie, is notoriously bad at choosing men and finally ends her relationship with her latest disaster shortly after learning she is pregnant.

As with most family dramas, this one introduces us to the characters and gives us each one's point of view.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mrs Q: Book Addict Aug. 7 2011
By Mrs. Q: Book Addict TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Publisher: Knopf
Pages: 400
Souce: Personal Ebook

Maine chronicles the paths of three generations of woman, living with family secrets and uncertain futures. Maine, is the location of the Kelleher family beach house where many memories have been made both good and bad. Four generations later and Alice, the family matriarch doesn't understand why her family is so distant. Each chapter is dedicated to one of the characters, and we see the Kelleher family through each of their eyes. As we get to know Alice, we learn that she has many grudges against her own children; her grandchildren are seen as an extension of their parents. Alice never wanted to become a mother, never felt that she was right for the role, after the death of her sister, she was married six months later to a man she grew to love. The guilt and loss of her sister remains with her to this day, a secret she wishes to keep. She raised her children the best she could, never keeping many criticisms to herself. If you were her family member, and you gained 5 pounds'you heard about it. Divorce should not be an option, even if your husband cheated on you. Kathleen is one of her children and not Alice's favorite by any means. When Kathleen's father fell sick, he confided in Kathleen, leaving Alice bitter. Daniel passed away ten years ago, but Kathleen and Alice have never been able to repair their relationship. Kathleen is now in California, running a successful business with the money her father left her while her family mock her from afar. Maggie is Kathleen's daughter- currently single, and pregnant. Maggie reluctantly goes to Maine to clear her head and figure out where she needs to go from here, the downside is seeing her grandmother but she is sure she can manage.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Convincing and Absorbing New England Family Saga July 9 2012
By Brett H #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Maine is a saga of the Kelleher family through several generations. There are four main narrators and each chapter is told from the viewpoint of one of them. The story moves from the present day to periodic flashbacks in time so as to cover important events in the history of the family.

The family's summer residence is in Maine, close to Ogunquit and Perkins Cove. The matriarch of the family, Alice, lives there and the various members of her family, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren visit during the long summer vacation. I know the area where this is set very well and the descriptions of the locality are totally authentic even down to the local restaurants visited, which helped me to identify quite strongly with this book.

The main narrators are Alice herself, Kathleen her daughter, Kathleen's daughter, Maggie and Ann Marie, Alice's daughter in law. The story is really about personal relationships which are explored in great depth and we gradually learn how the present day situation between the family members came about. Some of the relationships are quite tense, but somehow, and rather against the odds, they all generally seem to manage to stay on speaking terms with each other and with some semblance of politeness! The main characters are developed very well by the author and we really get under their skin and understand their personal motivations and aspirations and how these often contrast with the way they are perceived by other members of the clan.

This is a very well written family saga. It is interesting reading from the start, but I would say the interest increases as you progress through the book and understand more about the Kellehers. I was quite disappointed when I got to the end as I would happily have read a lot more about this fascinating family.
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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  430 reviews
210 of 224 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it from beginning to end. May 27 2011
By Ladybug - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I began reading this book hesitantly and with low expectations. The story sounded intriguing, but I didn't know what to expect based on the other reviews I had seen. I have to say, though, that I loved this story from beginning to end. I liked that the book essentially had four narrators, all women from the same extended family, but from different generations and different immediate families, if that makes sense. We hear from each of them several times throughout. Each woman gets her own chapter when it's her turn to narrate, and key plot points are revealed or explained in bits and pieces from each woman's perspective.

For me, the characters were the best part of the book. I could identify with all of them, but with one in particular. They were all so unique, so interesting and quirky, yet completely believable. The writing was simple but flowed well. Honestly, I couldn't put the book down, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for an easy but pleasantly layered read.
203 of 217 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a more depressing drama than the blurbs let on May 27 2011
By anon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I wish I loved this book, but I just didn't. It wasn't awful by any means, but it certainly did not deliver what the blurbs and product description seemed to be promising.

Yes, the book is about a very dysfunctional family. True, they own a lovely cottage and summer house in Maine. But there is very little time spent on any of the fun of summer vacations spent there. Most of the book is flashbacks, telling the stories of the family members back home. None of them have much happiness to tell either. And the book tells the story only through the eyes and voices of the women (which normally can make a great book), but I can't help but feel the men in this family could have added a great deal of interest, depth, and point of view. What did Daniel really think of his wife? What about Pat?

My favorite thing about my favorite books is always the characters. When you finish a good book, you feel sad it is over because you loved the characters so much and you will miss them. In "Maine" there wasn't one character I grew to love or even like. Perhaps the author dwelled only on their struggles and depressing aspects, but you just don't feel happy to be sharing your time with them (not when you were expecting dyfunction, but with a side dose of fun, anyways).

And there is no humor, nothing funny what so ever in this book to lighten up the grim past or mood-dampening characters. There is not a single laugh out loud moment. Not even anything that made me even smirk or crack half a smile. It's as if the person who made the blurbs did not even read the book. If the blurb was better fitting to the story it might have been a better reading experience. If it told you the book was a somber drama about a dysfunctional family with each generation seemingly unable to break the chain of pessimism and pain, you would know what you were getting into.

I kept reading till the end because you do feel like you want to see what happens. But the ending left me unfulfilled. That was it? No huge blow out? No one disowning any family member? No screaming match, or making up and forgiving? No working the situation out to comprise and try to please everyone, a little?

Had the blurb been better and more accurate about this book I think it would do the reader and the author a favor and make the book a better experience than it was. It is just that the blurb description gets you looking forward to something it was not. So you feel disappointed.

Read it yourself and give it a try. It is not a total waste of reading time. It just is something other than what it is said to be. It is darker than the blurb portrays. And there isn't really much of a climax or big ending. So if you go into it with that in mind, you will probably get more out of it. It's a glimpse into a screwed up family, closing with what seems to be showing that the characters continue on, same as usual. No ah-ha moments. No "better off because of it" or even "better off despite all of it" kind of moments. Oh well. That certainly does happen in real life.

But as for me right now, I am still in the mood for a book set at a summer cottage, dyfunctional and crabby relatives allowed, but at least a few laughs and one or two well-balanced, likeable characters.
164 of 187 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The book doesn't resemble the blurbs and product description May 9 2011
By Maine Colonial - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
As a young woman during World War II, Alice Kelleher had always intended to live on her own and be an artist, but after her sister Mary is killed in a fire, Alice abandons her dreams. Blaming herself for Mary's death, she decides to atone by living the life Mary aspired to: marriage, children and devotion to the Catholic church. Alice's selfishness and love of solitude make her poorly suited to motherhood, and her guilt and unhappiness with her choice lead to her alcoholism. Alice, now the widowed matriarch of the Kelleher family, is a bitter, vindictive, emotionally constipated woman who has mastered controlling her family through criticism, nagging and ownership of their summer retreat, a gorgeous three-acre oceanfront lot with house and cottage at the Maine seashore.

Alice's daughter-in-law, Ann Marie, has done her best, for the 35 years of her marriage, to earn a place in the family and Alice's affections. Deep down, Ann Marie has no great affection for the Kellehers, but she is a good Irish Catholic girl----and Ann Marie covets that summer home.

Alice's first child, Kathleen, broke away from her family after her beloved father's death, and moved to California. Kathleen has been on the wagon for over 20 years and has achieved relative serenity through a good relationship with her partner of 10 years, yoga, healthy living and various self-help mantras, not to mention keeping away from her poisonous mother and the unhealthy rivalry she has with Ann Marie. Kathleen's daughter, Maggie, is notoriously bad at choosing men and finally ends her relationship with her latest disaster shortly after learning she is pregnant.

As with most family dramas, this one introduces us to the characters and gives us each one's point of view. Then, the characters are brought together, a conflict situation arises that brings all their issues with each other to the forefront, and some kind of resolution results.

This book follows the usual pattern, but the proportions are all wrong. Fully half the book goes by before the characters are brought together. The long exposition of each character's story is only mildly interesting. Once the characters are brought together, they snipe at each other in an irritatingly passive-aggressive way for most of the remainder of the book until finally the big event occurs that escalates the conflict. Once that happens, the book just peters out, with a half-hearted and partial resolution. It almost feels as if Sullivan lost interest in the story and just went through the motions to wrap things up.

I have to take issue with the product description and the review blurbs on this product page. The book is funny? What page was that on? The characters are "flawed but lovable"? Alice is just plain hateful, Ann Marie is judgmental and superficial, Maggie is a classic victim and Kathleen acts like a rebellious teenager. All of them are self-pitying bores and I found nothing lovable about any of them.

The product description also implies that the book depicts a large extended family spending the summer at the house in Maine, with kids running around and family members gathering around the piano for a singalong. When the action finally moves to Maine, with very minor exception the only family members present are the four women. There are no scenes of a big, happy family living it up on the Maine shore in summer. I can only assume that the deceptive product description is intended to sell the book as an enjoyable summer read.

I can ascribe a few positives to the book. Sullivan does a good job of describing many of the dynamics and traditions of Boston Irish Catholic families of the 1950s and 1960s, and aspects of the southern Maine coast. (Except that nobody in Maine has garden-grown tomatoes in June.) Although there are only four key characters, there are a dozen or so other characters playing minor roles, and Sullivan manages to portray them vividly enough so that they are easy to keep straight.

I wish I could think of more positives, because I wanted very much to like this book, but I was terrifically disappointed in it and there is no way around it. I'm sure even readers who particularly enjoy dysfunctional family dramas can find a lot better books than this one. Not recommended.
47 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The ties that bind May 21 2011
By Lauren G - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I loved J. Courtney Sullivan's first novel, Commencement, so I was extremely excited to read her follow-up. Thankfully, I was not disappointed at all.

Much like Commencement, Maine is the story of four women, with chapters flip-flopping back and forth between them. But rather than friends, these women are related, and each harboring their own secret. The story is set as summer starts, and the four women converge upon the family summer house in Maine, one won by a lucky game of poker right after World War II. Generations have descended upon it, however this may be the last one.

Alice, the great-grandmother, still pines for the sister she lost 60 years ago in an accident. With her loving husband gone, she's decided to give the house away to her church once the summer was over. With very little maternal instincts, she believes the church has been there for her the most. Kathleen is her eldest daughter, the black sheep of the family who is strikingly like Alice. She's set her life to be different than her mother's, and has literally moved across the country to get away from the family and the pain she went through growing up. Maggie is Kathleen's daughter, a writer in New York who recently discovered she's pregnant. Now alone, she doesn't know what to do, but knows she wants to keep the child and at the same time, learn more about the family it's being born into. Ann-Marie is Alice's daughter-in-law, married to Alice's son Patrick. Ann-Marie is perfect, with a perfect house, perfect children, and perfect way with people. Yet, things aren't as wonderful as they seem, so she takes out her domestic frustration by building doll houses, creating more perfect worlds.

Once again, the story starts in the present, and offers detailed glimpses to the past, showcasing what brought the women to this point in their lives, and what history lies within the house. Ultimately a story about the family binds that keep us together - whether we like it or not - it's also about survival, relationships, and moving on, whether scary or painful.

Sullivan did a wonderful job bringing each woman to life, giving each enough heart to make them real. Despite how much you hate Alice at times, you love her because you understand. And that was tremendous, because the characters, at times, could have easily been horrid, but because of Sullivan's details and love for each one, they shone in their own ways. Their actions were almost understood. They felt like my own family at times. The descriptions were marvelous, and made me want to visit Maine, and see the same sea they looked out upon. I even found myself mentally planning a vacation there.

But what made the book fantastic were the little details. How the house was won. Kathleen's business. The dedication in Maggie's book. Ann-Marie's dollhouse's curtains. Alice overhearing phone conversations as a child. These little elements added so much - a depth, another layer of understanding each character.

Ultimately, it was an honest book. Brutal at times, but always hypnotic and addictive. It never once lost its mission and purpose, and I'm so glad I read it. It's a book I'll remember, and think about when I'm at the beach, almost wondering if the characters will join me on my blanket. I'll definitely continue following Sullivan's career; she's got an immense talent, and I'm excited to see where she goes next.
40 of 45 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Tiresome women who drink a lot and feel guilty all the time June 30 2011
By Eden - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I wanted to like this book. After all, it's published by Alfred Knopf and it's in hardback just in time to buy it for your one summer vacation read. It starts promisingly with some descriptions of Maine/beach/sea evocations that make you think it was a good choice. Then the Catholic girl mentality kicks in, not just for the heroine, the matriarch named Alice whom everyone seems to hate and who seems to be oblivious to the times when her directness hurts peoples' feelings. I kept wondering if we women are truly like the apologetic, miserable, over-sensitive, purposeless, wine-drinking, whiney characters in this book. GUILT seems to play a big part in how they see themselves and how they relate to each other. Sisterly guilt, motherly guilt, daughterly guilt, grandmotherly guilt. That's independent from and in addition to all the Catholic Church guilt. I could barely bring myself to keep reading but I kept thinking something would change for the better. But it didn't. Enmired enmities prevail. New enmities form, even! It's expensive too.

What could those editors at Knopf be thinking? Is this truly the best they can do?
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