Rave reviews abound, deemed the last worthy beach read of the summer by EW, this book had been flitting around in my periphery for several months when Beth Fish Reads begged to have it added to our Skype Book Club reading list for September. It had been weighing on her mind and it needed discussing. Booking Mama, also a member of the book club, loved it too.
It seems for books that interest me, but don't compel me to read them, the book club is the only way to force my hand these days. So away I went, with fairly high expectations.
Synopsis: Three generations of Kelleher women descend on the family beach house in Maine one summer, each with distractions and troubled hearts.
Alice, the curmudgeon-ish matriarch, recently widowed, has hard feelings for most of her family. They are ungrateful, they don't get along, they've lost their sense of family, their priorities are skewed, etc. She struggles with issues from her youth that were never resolved, and will forever be attempting to redeem herself in the eyes of God. Kathleen, Alice's daughter, is a recovering alcoholic, and has removed herself from family drama to become a worm feces farmer in California. Anne Marie, Alice's daughter-in-law, is feeling lost now that she is an empty-nester and is questioning her worth as a woman and a wife. Maggie, Kathleen's daughter is young, unmarried and pregnant, with a wayward boyfriend who will never own up to his responsibilities.
In a study of characters, family dynamics of love, hate and jealousy, and heavy doses of repressed guilt, we are thrust into this family of imperfect souls. Personalities explode and clash before our eyes in attempt to resolve decades-old grudges and hurt feelings, alcohol addiction, weight control, body image, and religion.
My thoughts: While I was entertained by these four women, I never felt fully invested in them. I could find both redeeming qualities and annoying qualities in Kathleen, Anne Marie and Maggie. However, I loathed Alice - I thought her very mean-spirited and I felt waves of anger every time she spoke.
I also kept waiting for something to HAPPEN, but after a period of time, I realized this was going to be more of a character-driven tale versus a plot-driven one. I would have been satisfied with that had I cared about these individuals, but I did not.
As far as building the world of the Kelleher women, however, Sullivan was a master. By the end of the novel, you knew these women as well as you know your own friends and family. She also makes the Maine coastline, it's small towns, it's food, and its people, a separate and distinct character. I even found myself pining for my own Maine cottage by the end of the story (just not one I would have to share with Alice!).
My overall opinion of this novel is the exception to the rule. As I said before, Beth Fish and Julie loved this book, as well as countless others. They saw past the flaws in the Kelleher women and related to them. If you like a family drama with flawed characters, an unearthing of secrets, women in a flux of self-discovery, all in a beautiful setting, then I would highly encourage you to give this one a try.
A word about the audio production: Our narrator for this audio book was Anne Marie Lee, which I believe I've listened to on some Lisa Gardner books and a Lisa Unger book. Anne Marie did a respectable job with the New England accents (from the perspective a non-New Englander), but I think because the story is told from each woman's viewpoint, multiple narrators would have kicked it up a notch.
3 out of 5 stars