Friday 20 July 2012

Review:- Maine by Courtney Sullivan

I am (sigh) at home, again. Resting, again. Waiting to see a doctor later today about my continual dizziness, which will undoubtedly be due to the way that the baby is growing or something, but we shall see. Anyway, in the mean time it seems like a good opportunity to actually get to reviewing the awesome that is Maine.

Maine is a book I bought for a couple of reasons; primarily that I had Waterstone's vouchers burning a hole in my pocket, but also because they were talking about it on Bookrageous a while back and it sounded like exactly the kind of thing I needed to read at the moment!

Basically it's about three generations of women in the Kelleher family spending the summer at their beach house in Maine. Currently, we are having pretty much no summer here in my part of the UK (yesterday, it was a bit hot and a bit sunny, and every single person I saw was wearing shorts and either eating ice cream or wearing a sun hat. I kid you not), so I loved the chance to sun myself vicariously which this book afforded me. I'm a bit annoyed because I'd already half-written this review once, but I did it on little scraps of paper and inevitably lost it and had to start again. Not happy, but there we go, turns out there is a reason not to write stuff on tiny scraps of paper!

Courtney Sullivan (published in the U.S & who is also on Twitter as J. Courtney Sullivan. Why?) is really, really good at writing characters and relationships. Really, this book didnt particularly need anything else. It pretty much just sticks a bunch of women from the same (fairly dysfunctional) family in a house together and leaves them to fight it out. I'm sure that a huge amount of effort went into making the story and characters seem so effortless, but they really do.

There are four central characters. Firstly Alice, the matriarch, an (ex?) alcoholic still attempting to recover from the death of her husband, a family tragedy from the past which she has never recovered from, and the fact that she never really wanted to be a mother. She spends the entire summer at the house in Maine, and is joined for various periods by various family members. Her granddaughter Maggie is the first to arrive; newly single and pregnant, trying to decide what she is capable of. Then there is Alice's eldest daughter, Maggie's mother, Kathleen, struggling to reconcile the raging alcoholic she used to be with the person she now is, and trying to come to terms with being back in the house which she swore she would never return to. Finally there is Ann-Marie, married to Alice's idolised son, Patrick, she has invested huge amounts of time and energy on being 'the daughter Alice never had' and fitting in to the Kelleher family.

There is another major player in the background of the novel, which almost deserves to be mentioned as much as any of the characters, and that is alcohol. Alice's children's childhood was pretty impacted by her drinking. To an extent, Kathleen's own children then ended up in a similar situation. Maggie doesn't allow herself to really drink, in case it has the effect on her that it does on her mother and grandmother. I was going to say that Maine asks us to question how much we actually have control over our actions and personalities, but the more I think about it, the more it seems that the issue really is not that but how difficult it can be for people to cope with situations and to control themselves. Is the way that we are as human beings - the way that we react to things, the way we interact with each other - purely dependent on how we allow ourselves to be?

At the moment I like to write about books that I have an emotional response to, and i definitely responded emotionally to Maine. Probably because it is pretty much about mothers and their daughters, and obviously motherhood is something I spend quite a bit of time thinking about lately, but even outside of that the characters are just brilliantly created. None of them are simple; not even Ann-Marie, who seems like she should be. They are all very complex and driven by some very involved motivations. People harbour resentements and hold grudges over events which happened 20,30,40 years previously in a way that they only can in families, but equally there is a stage for every character in the story, where they realise that there are lots of things they don't know about the people they are supposed to know better than anybody.

I don't want to talk too much about specifics, as I don't want to ruin it for when you read it (which you should, becaue it's awesome), but it is kind of a redemption story in a lot of ways. All of the characters are, at the beginning o f the story, trapped, either by something from their past or by aspects of their lives in the present, which crushes them in some way. Throughout the novel they are, in their various ways, trying to work through their issues and become liberated.

I loved the complexity of the characters; how much of a bitch Alice could be, how entirely impossible and inappropriate Kathleen was at times, Ann-Marie's obsession with posessions... They were like people I know, who are brilliant and lovely and fun and awesome, except when something happens which they react to in an entirely unexpected way and you sit there thinking 'is this really x?' (x being the person in question). They were just the right amount of annoying that it didn't get in the way of the enjoyment of the story.

I could go on about Maine forever,but instead I will just say that it is definitely going on the list of favourite books of this year. It was both relaxing and stimulating and I really didn't want it to end!

1 comment:

  1. Maine was great. I think I put it in my top ten of last year. Sullivan's other book Commencement, is good too and also focuses on the relationships between women. Hope you are feeling better.