As someone who grew up in an Irish Catholic family on the East coast, J. Courtney Sullivan's novel Maine felt awfully familiar. Something about the cover and the book's popularity made me expect a much lighter sort of "beach read", but I was pleasantly surprised to find a complicated, multi-generational family saga instead.
Technically, Maine takes place over a couple months in the summer when the Kelleher family vacations together in their beach home. But through the voices of this ensemble cast of characters, we read about their journey as a family, beginning with the matriarch in her youth.
We get the story from four perspectives: Alice, daughter Kathleen, daughter-in-law Anne Marie and Kathleen's adult daughter Maggie. All the characters are flawed, and perhaps the most deeply flawed is Alice. The past that torments her is hidden from those around her and all they see is her apparent ambivalence about motherhood. Kathleen, the black sheep of the family, discovers that a lifetime of trying to be her mother's opposite has sent nearly the same message to her daughter. Maggie is unexpectedly pregnant and wrestles with the decisions she must make for her future while trying not to echo the mistakes of the past.
This is character driven fiction- which is my favorite. Each character has their own story to tell which informs the broader story, the portrait of the Kellehers.