Jenny's Reviews > Maine

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan
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Apr 24, 12

bookshelves: 2012-challenge
Read from April 22 to 24, 2012

I liked Commencement, but I loved this. Although I enjoyed everyone's sections equally - grandmother Alice, daughter Kathleen, daughter-in-law Ann Marie, granddaughter Maggie - Maggie was my favorite character, though this could just be due to the fact that she's closest to my age, as well as being the sanest and kindest of the four. I don't know how one goes about writing a book this huge in scope and insight; I'm tremendously impressed by the depth of the characters, the authenticity of the setting in various times and places, and the rendering of the family dynamic. Julia Glass's The Widower's Tale meets Jennifer Haigh's Faith. Multigenerational, complex female characters.

Alice has always struggled with uncharitable feelings - jealousy, stubbornness, selfishness - and her guilt is compounded a hundredfold when her sister dies and she feels responsible. Born to a wealthier family or in a more liberal, modern time, Alice still might have been able to follow her dream: live independently and be an artist. Instead, she feels forced to marry and have children she does not want.

Kathleen, Alice's oldest child, has grown up, escaped a bad marriage, raised two children, quit drinking, and moved with her boyfriend to California. Yet her hard-won serenity and contentedness cannot withstand interactions with her family, particularly her mother, brother, and sister-in-law.

Ann Marie married Alice's youngest child, Patrick, and calls Alice "Mom." She is the perfect wife, mother, and daughter-in-law, but feels that no one appreciates all of her hard work (she has a point, but one can also see why Kathleen thinks she may as well have "martyr" stamped on her forehead).

Maggie is Kathleen's daughter; 32, living in Brooklyn, making a living as a writer, her only real flaw is terrible taste in men. Now she is pregnant and has to decide what to do.

By the end of the book, all four women end up at the family's place in Maine (surprise!). This is beautiful, heart-wrenching, truthful fiction at its best.

*

And why bother coming up, year after year, when it only made her feel lonely, longing for something she'd already had? (Alice, 21)

But maybe your family could never give you the perfect response, the kindest reply. Maybe their vision of you was too tied up in their hopes and fears for them to ever really see you as just you. Perhaps that's why her mother had gone so far away in the end - to be seen clearly, to see others that way. (Maggie, 170)

It was so bitter and sad, looking for safety in the person least likely to give it to you. Like drinking saltwater, she thought. (Maggie, 211)

Like even if there was no God there was always the ocean - before you and after you, breathing in and out for all eternity. (Maggie, 257)

Parenthood by its very nature was the only job she know of in which being successful meant rendering yourself useless. (Ann Marie, 275)

...the peculiar sensation of caring terribly, insanely, for a person over whom you had no control; a person who was your responsibility yet no longer had to answer to you. (Kathleen, 291)

"In my experience," he had said, "people can change, but most people don't." (Kathleen/Daniel, 313)

In a different world, she might have been more trusting and he might have been trustworthy. She got that. But...she would never understand why logic couldn't conquer something as simple and commonplace as love. (Maggie, 334)
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