On a shelf in my room I keep a small selection of my favorite books: Princess Diaries: Princess Forever by Meg Cabot, The Botticelli Secret by Marina Fiorato, Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld and Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan. I read Commencement two weeks before I hopped on a one way flight to England. I loved it, I cried, I laughed, I probably hugged the book in an awkward public place, say in the park or on the subway. What can I say, I have deep relationships with my books.
Although I was excited when Maine was released last year, I didn’t read it. I don’t know why I put it off. Perhaps I thought it would be one of those books that ended in a familial tragedy so horrible that all you want to do is get into bed, curl up into the fetal position and cry. I hate those books. Luckily, I came to my senses, realized this book didn’t describe a beach-based apocalypse and put it on hold at the library. Before you can say ‘summer vacation,’ the book had arrived at my nearby branch and I was ready to read. I read it quicker than I had anticipated, to say the least.
Maine follows the lives of four different women who, either through marriage or birth, all belong to the Irish-Catholic Kelleher clan. The book takes place over the course of a summer, with the family’s house in Maine as the true protagonist. Sullivan relates the story through alternating viewpoints. Just as you’ve decided that one character is certainly evil, you read the story through her eyes and, inevitably, decide that she is the most sympathetic. There’s Alice, the matriarch; Kathleen, the eldest daughter; Ann Marie, the Kelleher-by-marriage; and Maggie, Kathleen’s daughter. Each women has their own problems that block them from truly relating to each other.
While this story is about family, it’s also about women. Like Commencement, it follows their unique issues in relationships, this time focusing with generational problems and familial ties. They want to leave behind their childhood, or return to a happier time. Ultimately, they all want the same thing, to be happy. The house in Maine represents happiness to each of them in their own, unique way.
I loved this book. I didn’t exactly feel like there was one character in particular that I could relate to, but I felt that I could recognize all of them from my own family experiences. Coming from a family that I perceive to be exceedingly small, that’s saying something. The changing viewpoints made even the characters that seemed unbearable palatable. Unlike in Commencement, where there were some characters that I felt completely uninterested in, I truly came to care for each of the four women in Maine.
Although Maine is set during the summer, it’s the perfect read for any time of year. There’s something in this book for everyone who has a family. It’s the perfect blend of intelligent and fun to keep you wanting more and feel satisfied at the end.
Do you have any family traditions, like a summer vacation spot or trait that’s passed down?