Books Culture

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

29 March 2016
Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

When I published my review of Commencement way back in October, I said that I was looking forward to reading more of J. Courtney Sullivan’s work. And yet, five months went by before I picked up another one of her books! I actually finished Maine a month ago but life got in the way of me writing this article sooner.


One summer like any other, the women of the Kelleher family visit their beach house in Maine that Daniel, their father, father-in-law or husband once won in a bet. However, the weeks leading up to their stay reveal many collective and individual burdens long pushed below the surface. Alcoholism, regret and jealousy run deep in this family’s veins!

What I thought of Maine

In my opinion, this book’s main strength is its characters. They are an interesting, eclectic lot! I loved reading their deepest, most secret and uncensored thoughts. The writing style translated the flow of thoughts beautifully, whether tackling difficult memories or the everyday musings about what to have for dinner or when to call the plumber. The plunge into the characters’ thoughts reminded me of Mrs Dalloway and the stream of consciousness, except it is much easier for the reader to follow and of course far more modern.

Alice, the 80-something-year-old matriarch, is a formidable character. The blind rage her daughter Kathleen feels when in her presence is completely and utterly relatable. And having access to Alice’s thoughts and memories did nothing to make her seem more palatable! Understanding (to a point) how she evolved from a difficult and stubborn teenager into a perpetually angry mother was fascinating. Although I wouldn’t say I felt any sympathy for her, I did come to realise that she does try to a certain extent to be a better person.


I enjoyed the stories about life in the US after the war, as well as the opinions and values that are sometimes downright shocking today. God is to be feared, children should be beaten with belts and a woman should NEVER sleep with a man before marriage or she will go to Hell.

Maine also made me reflect on how different people’s lifestyles can prevent them from getting along. The misunderstandings between the characters in this book are frankly really upsetting, as it is obvious that there is a lot of love between these imperfect women but they still find it almost impossible to get along. I often felt sad and sorry for various characters, reflecting that they deserved better. And thinking back to the book a month after having finished it, I almost want to wish them well. I especially wonder what Alice’s grand daughter Maggie is up to now.

My favourite thing about Maine is the way it ended. There is no sudden solution that pops out of nowhere to provide a convenient happy ending. Life just carries on. And yet, you feel a little glimmer of hope for the characters who seem to have had the tiniest of breakthroughs. A wonderful read I highly recommend!

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