LeeAnn's Reviews > Maine

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan
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Jan 09, 2012

really liked it
Read in November, 2011


MAINE by J Courtney Sullivan

I so much wanted to be there for our Seasoned Readers Book Club at Barnes & Noble last night. But, Mom had an Alzheimer's melt down and I couldn't go. So to calm her I had a discussion of the book with her instead.

Our family spent summers in Maine near where this story takes place in Needick Beach, Maine, although our cabin was at Sebago Lake, not the ocean. Mom and Dad are both from the area and I still have oodles of cousins there. This story reminds me of my cousin Debbie’s home on the beach, just south of Old Orchard, surrounded by tall windswept pines. They get snow drifts in the winter up to the second story windows! But the summers are lovely. Only a five minute walk to the Atlantic Ocean!

I like the way Sullivan broke up the chapters speaking from the voice of each of the women in the family. That way we got into their heads and learned what they were thinking and feeling. Seeing the same summer from each of their points of view examined the dynamics that come into play in every family.

The matriarch, Alice held a life altering guilt her entire adult life. Once on the road to a bohemian artist lifestyle, a tragedy, the Coconut Grove night club fire, made her reach an agreement with God to do what her sister, lost in the fire, would have done, instead of playing out her own desires. No one else would have dumped the guilt on her that she herself held. The results paint her life in shades of dysfunction, the impressions of neglect and a devotion to her church beyond the norm.

My Mom remembers that huge fire at the Coconut Grove in Boston. It was on the radio and in the papers for months. I attach a picture of her family at exactly that time. The Philco radio they listened to is in the background. Her two eldest brothers both went off to war and Larry was captured by the Germans and was a prisoner for much of the war. He came back only 90 pounds down from 250 he left with. Mom is in the white blouse in the back row. She was 11-12 years old at the time.

Alice’s daughter Kathleen never felt loved the way she craved and felt the need to care for an alcoholic mother and then repeated the pattern with her own alcohol abuse. She even ran off with a new man after her marriage failed, effectively abandoning her daughter physically as her mother had abandoned her emotionally.

The daughter, Maggie, sought love from an emotionally unavailable man, just as both of her parents were unavailable to her. Her life apart only reconnected once she announced her pregnancy to her mother who came running to fix everything. Maggie was smart enough to lead her own life and even determined to raise her child alone.

Ann Marie is the daughter-in-law who wanted to control everyone and paint a pretty picture of life at the same time as her own world was far from the perfection she had envisioned or portrayed. She even decorated dollhouses as perfect slices of life she could not always have control of in real life. A gay daughter off in the Peace Corp and a son who couldn’t hold a decent job and was on allowance from daddy were represented as perfect children. Ann Marie held a secret longing for a neighbor, yet played the perfect wife. It all starts to unravel when she acts on her desires.

Sullivan gives sufficient description to the home and occupants to make you feel as if they are real and appreciated. It made me long for those days of my family at the beach with sand between our toes.

I recently learned why we all feel so invigorated after a barefoot walk on the beach. The earth’s electromagnetic charge actually charges our body and makes the brain and entire body process better!

This book made me feel like every family has similar drama surrounding life and death, alcohol and finances, personalities and control issues. In the end we all have to deal with what is there or walk away, which is one way of dealing with it. We still have our families and end up accepting them the way they are with all of their faults. It made me look at how I interact with my family and why. Sometimes you just have to do what needs to be done because you are there and a part of a family.

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Marie cuatt I especially enjoyed your last paragraph about every family. It was good to read your insight and common feeling regarding the sense of place.

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