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Maine by Courtney Sullivan is presented as a family saga, with large parts of it set and focused on, rather unsurprisingly, the Kelleher family's summer home in Maine. Three generations of Kelleher women are in Maine: Alice, the prickly matriarch; her daughter Kathleen, who is best described as the black sheep of the family; Kathleen's daughter Maggie, pregnant and newly single; and Alice's daughter-in-law, Ann-Marie, an uptight perfectionist who is now harbouring desires for an affair.
Maine is one of those novels which doesn't really have a clear-cut story. Each character has their own chapters, which of course tell their story - for Alice this is largely memories of a long-ago tragedy, while for the others it is their present. We learn about family issues and divisions from different points of view, which is quite interesting. Each of them sees things very differently, and your sympathy will change depending on who is telling the story. Although I have to be honest, I rarely sympathized with Ann-Marie, who I found to be annoying, uptight and judgemental.
Alice is rude and very prickly, with her mood swinging easily. She can be very harsh towards her family, even to the saintly Ann-Marie who she gets on with better than her own daughters. Yet she suffers from the memories of the death of her sister decades ago, and for this reason she is impossible to hate. Her actions in the present regarding the inheritance of the house in Maine following her death were another point that made me like her, as she thwarted the annoying Ann-Marie and her husband Patrick.
Kathleen is an interesting character. She lives in California with her partner, and together they run a worm farm, producing a successful plant fertilizer. Yet despite her success she is derided by her family for working with worms. I found she reminded me of someone I know, and that she was my favourite character - I enjoyed her forthrightness, her way of saying things as she sees them and refusing to tiptoe around issues for the sake of appearances.
Despite being the closest to me in age, I found it hard to engage with the character of Maggie. At times she comes across as a strong young woman, but then she gets a bit pathetic. Of course this could be attributed to her pregnancy and her newly single status, but it didn't help me warm to the character.
As a whole, Maine seemed to take a while to get going. Until about halfway or two thirds through, I felt it was a rather detached, almost cold, novel. It is well written and enjoyable, but didn't have the page-turning effect I was expecting from thinking about other American family saga-style novels (Douglas Kennedy springs to mind). I wasn't pulled into the characters stories, and left holding my breath waiting to see how things would work out for them. Once all the characters were in Maine, it got a bit more exciting and it felt like the story had really got going, but that was after the halfway point of the novel.
While Maine is certainly an enjoyable read, it just didn't live up to what I had hoped for from it. I would describe my reaction to it as indifferent, which isn't particularly good. It is still a good read, and not one I would urge you to stay away from, but it's also not one to look forward to as I did.
This review was originally published on www.curiousbookfans.co.uk, a review copy of Maine was provided by the publisher through Curious Book Fans.