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The book doesn't resemble the blurbs and product description
on September 5, 2011
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. Not that a good book's characters have to be lovable, but don't tell me they are when that's so far from true.
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.