Friday, May 11, 2012

Maine Isn't Just For Maine-iacs

If you like your beach reads to have sand, an old house, and generations of family dysfunction (like I do!)...then this is the book for you! It conveniently fits into your beach bag even with all of the baggage the characters are carrying.

The novel follows four women in the Kelleher family during a monumental summer at their beach house in Maine. Alice, the matriarch, is a strong willed and loose tongued woman who feels little affection for her family. She finds it difficult to relate to her children and grandchildren despite the fact that they are her blood. Her sections flash back and forth between the current summer at her house in Maine and an event from her past that still plagues her with guilt after over 60 years. Kathleen, Alice's daughter, is the misfit in the family. She is a recovering divorce with two children and a worm farm in California that she runs with her boyfriend. Her and Alice have always butted heads which was only exacerbated with Kathleen's father died. However, a momentous event causes Kathleen to uproot herself from her peaceful life in California and come east one last time to face her demons...and her mother. Anne-Marie, Alice's daughter-in-law, is the character everyone loves to hate. She was a stay at home mom who is a stickler for proper manners and etiquette. Though she was from the wrong side of the tracks, she has abandoned most of her past in hopes of becoming an upper-class socialite. Her only problem is her dysfunctional children and distant husband. Maggie, Kathleen's daughter, has always looked for love in all of the wrong places. Unfortunately, this last place left her pregnant and alone. She goes to Maine in an effort to get back to herself and plan her next move. When these four women are forced to share a house (or two), fights erupt, skeletons are unleashed from closets, and their love of family is tested.

Don't be fooled by the rocks that Maine "got", those waters are treacherous!
I know this sounds like a lot of material, but Sullivan pulls it off without ever confusing the reader. Each character has her own dynamic and personality which is a feat when writing a novel that is constructed of all female narrators. Interestingly, none of the characters are likeable but I was still hooked on their every word. Perhaps the reason is that every family has an Alice, Kathleen, and Anne-Marie. The dynamics between the four women was fascinating and completely real. I would have enjoyed some insight from the men in the family, but I think that's another book as this one is all about the Kelleher matriarchy. Some reviewers were annoyed that the book didn't have more to do with Maine and wasn't really a beach read. Both of these statements are true. If you're looking for chick lit complete with a quirky main character and prince charming, this is absolutely not your book. If you're looking for a book that drops the names of various town and restaurants in Maine so if you have been to Maine you can feel like you're "in the know"...this is not it! This is a reasonably dark family drama that just happens to be set on the beach. Unfortunately, I could not give this book five stars because some of the Kathleen sections were a bit cliched or clunky. I felt that all of the other women were well developed and unique. However, I felt like I had met Kathleen before in many novels and Lifetime movies. Still, it didn't hurt my opinion of the novel which I will certainly be recommending.

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