Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Maine - J. Courtney Sullivan (Audio)

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                 

21 comments:

bermudaonion said...

Well, you know I was in the "Sandy camp" on this one. I kept waiting for something - anything - to happen. I did appreciate Sullivan's writing, but I needed more plot.

Beth F said...

I loved the character studies! I also read it as the story of women and women's issues over the latter half of the 20th century. I didn't love the women but I was totally drawn into their world.

I guess I don't need anything to happen. :))

Julie P. said...

I'm with Candace on this one. I guess I don't need a book heavy on plot. I love thinking about and analyzing the characters.

Beth(bookaholicmom) said...

I am torn on this one. I have it on my wish list but not sure if it is book I would enjoy. I am a reader who needs a plot or some action of some type. This may be one to get from the library. To tell you the truth, Maine was what drew me to this book. I have never been and it fascinates me.

JoAnn said...

I'd probably love this since I'm a big fan of character studies and Maine. Too bad about the audio though.. it sounds like a book that is made for multiple narrators.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I think I would go for the Maine cottage and skip the book!

Zibilee said...

I can't say that I have been all that tempted to read this one, but I have heard a fair bit about it all over the blogs. People seem to either love it or hate it from what I've seen. I found your review to be very balanced and thoughtful, and appreciated reading your point of view. I think I will stick to my instincts and skip this one though I am sort of curious about the worm poop farming!

Darlene said...

I did pick this book up a while ago but I've talked to a few people who thought the same as you - that they just never really became invested in the characters. I guess I'll have to see when I read it.

Darlene said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jenny said...

I like reading about family drama and self discovery, but u would definitely need to go into this with the expectation that there would be little in terms of plot. I think you did a great, fair job describing the pros and cons of this book.

Jo-Jo said...

Thanks for the honest review Sandy. After reading so many mixed reviews of this book I think I will pass on it.

reviewsbylola said...

I think I will need to be in the right mood for this one! I bought a copy right when it first came out but haven't gotten to it yet.

Meg said...

I have a feeling I'm going to be right there with you on this one... I actually got a copy at the beginning of the summer, read about 50 pages and then decided I was bored and would get back to it later. Needless to say, it's been sitting abandoned for four months... and I have a feeling that's where it will stay.

caite said...

I read the first chapter of this somewhere online and it just did not grab me at all.

Jenners said...

Oh well. You're not going to like everything. I don't think this was for me anyway … it didn't sound like something that would grab me.

Marie said...

Huh. This would probably not be something for me, but the way you describe the setting sounds wonderful!

Iliana said...

I think I probably would really enjoy this book a lot - love those family/women drama type stories. And, a cottage in Maine sounds quite nice too :)

farmlanebooks said...

This one doesn't appeal to me - especially the analysing the characters/lack of plot :-(

Sorry to hear that EW failed for you- they always seem to match us.

Anita said...

I think you know I liked it, but looking back I guess I am fine with nothing happening, and that I enjoyed the study of the women. Maybe my family is full of women with issues like these...LOL.

natalie @ book, line, and sinker said...

i bought this book after seeing a nifty ad for it in a magazine. I haven't started it yet but my mom also bought a copy; she would agree with you--she liked it but didn't rave. :)

Carrie K. said...

I tried this one on audio - couldn't get past disc two. I just couldn't care about the characters.