“Ah, family. Isn’t it satisfying to leave your own briefly behind to drop in on another—and see how thoroughly they bungle it all up? This is the pleasure of Maine, J. Courtney Sullivan’s second novel, which delves into the secrets and simmering emotions of one dysfunctional family over the course of a single summer month. . . . The dialogue sizzles as the tension between the women’s love and anger toward one another tightens. . . . You don't want the novel to end.” —Lily King, The New York Times Book Review
“[A] ruthless and tender novel about the way love can sometimes redeem even the most contentious of families. Like all first-rate comic fiction, Maine uses humor to examine the truths of the heart, in New England and far beyond.” —The Washington Post Book World
“Sullivan beguiles us again. . . . Crackling-smart.” —Elle
“By the time you’re through with Maine, you’ll be craving a lobster roll and a trip to Kennebunkport.” —The Oregonian
“Sullivan presents women who may be stubborn and difficult, but she does so with such compassion and humor that we, too, end up rooting for them.” —Chicago Tribune
“A gem. . . . Sullivan gives us three sunny, alcoholic acres of Maine coastline and three generations of Kelleher women.” —Time
“I have never stayed at this cottage in Maine, or any cottage in Maine, but no matter: I now feel I know what it’s like being in a family that comes to the same place summer after summer, unpacking their familiar longings, slights, shorthand conversation, and ways of being together. J. Courtney Sullivan’s Maine is evocative, funny, close-quartered, and highly appealing.” —Meg Wolitzer, author of The Uncoupling
“A wonderful page-turner. . . . Sullivan narrates the tale with verve and precision, drawing the reader into a compelling portrait of a specific family as it changes with the values and accidents of each era.” —Providence Journal
“Nostalgic at times, up-to-the-minute at others, this meaty novel proves that Sullivan understands family.” —Newark Star-Ledger
“Gives us . . . characters we can care about, despite their sometimes too-familiar flaws.” —USA Today
“Maine’s brisk storytelling and the unfurling of its central mystery . . . sweep readers along with gratifying sink-into-your-deck-chair ease.” —Entertainment Weekly
“A powerful novel about the ties that bind families tight, no matter how dysfunctional. Sullivan has created in the Kelleher women a cast of flawed but lovable characters so real, with their shared history of guilt and heartache and secret resentments, that I’m sure I’ll be thinking about them for a long time to come.” —Amy Greene, author of Bloodroot
“Curl up with this wry, absorbing novel and eavesdrop on a summer’s worth of secrets, feuds, and misunderstandings.” —Parade magazine
“A wonderful page-turner.” —Providence Journal
“Maine covers a lot of multigenerational emotional ground and a lot of family history. As the story progresses, it’s intriguing to see the current dysfunction trace its way back through the generations to its roots in Catholic guilt, alcoholism and bad decisions. . . . Sullivan captures the beauty of the coast, the magic of a black-as-velvet sky lit with stars, the pleasures of a seaside lobster pound.” —Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“Articulate, insightful, profound.” —The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, VA)
“A keeper! . . . Sullivan has done a bang-up job showing us a family full of dysfunctionals who remind us of people we may just know or be related to.” —Naples Daily News
“Sullivan’s smarts shed light on topics all families deal with, but her tasteful approach on the tough ones (particularly modern-day religious issues) shine through. The cast of quirky characters will have you laughing out loud and aching for their regrets in the same chapter, pining for more pages when it comes to an end.” —MarieClaire.com
“[Sullivan] validates the old adage that you can pick your friends, but you are stuck with your relatives. This is a powerful, evocative story, beautifully written to reveal raw human emotions. . . . Fresh and lively.” —The New Maine Times
“Sullivan turns from friendships to family, writing with the same warmth and nuance as Commencement, but pushing her characters farther, creating an even more complex and satisfying whole.” —BookPage
“A delectable beach read as vast and sprawling in scope as the Kellehers’ three-acre family property it details. . . . In Maine, Sullivan explores with grace, depth and good humor what it means to belong to an Irish-American family.” —Irish America magazine
Many novels begin with a full head of steam, only to peter out halfway through. So often I've gushed to friends about a book, then had to call them later to retract my recommendation. Maine, conversely, starts slowly, but once it gets going, it does not falter. You don't want the novel to end in July. You want to stay with the Kellehers straight through to the end of August, until the sand cools, the sailboats disappear from their moorings, and every last secret has been pried up.
The New York Times
If the three generations of guilt-ridden, backbiting, willful, scheming Kelleher women in J. Courtney Sullivan's new novel could just learn to keep their mouths shut, even part of the time, their lives wouldn't be nearly so tumultuous. Of course, Maine wouldn't be nearly so hilarious, either…I enjoyed every page of this ruthless and tender novel about the way love can sometimes redeem even the most contentious families. Like all first-rate comic fiction, Maine uses humor to examine the truths of the heart, in New England and far beyond.
The Washington Post
Sullivan follows debut Commencement with a summer spritzer that's equal parts family drama, white wine, and Hail Marys. The story follows the struggles of three generations of Kelleher women: drunken Alice, the mass-going matriarch; her rebel daughter, Kathleen, a Sonoma County farmer; Kathleen's sister-in-law, the dollhouse aficionado Ann Marie; and Kathleen's daughter, Maggie, an aspiring writer. Rather than allowing the characters to grow or the plot to thicken, the novel's conflict derives almost entirely from the airing (or not) of various grievances (Alice believes herself responsible for her sister's death; Maggie is pregnant, single, and terrified; Kathleen is still the bitter person she was before she sobered up; Ann Marie has a martyr complex). The Kelleher summer home on the Maine coast is the putative center around which the drama revolves, yet it is the women's common love for Daniel, the patriarch rendered faultless in death, who does the most to bring the women together. The book's tension is watered down at best, like a sun-warmed cocktail: mildly effective, but disappointing. When conflict finally does break the surface, the exhilaration is visceral but short-lived. Late in the story, Kathleen tells Maggie, "It's going to be okay," to which she responds, "It has to be." Unfortunately, the reader never gets much chance to worry otherwise. (June)
Beautiful, fractious, and 83 years old, Alice Kelleher rules her children—especially her daughter, Kathleen, and her daughter-in-law, Anne Marie—with her cruel and callous speech. Granddaughter Maggie fares a little better, largely owing to her desperate need to serve as peacemaker. At the heart of this compelling novel of three generations of women emotionally stunted by fate and willful stubbornness is the family vacation property in Cape Neddick, ME, where the Kellehers have convened for six decades. Thirty-two-year-old Maggie is single, newly pregnant, and abandoned. Her mother, the abrasively immature at sixtyish Kathleen, leaves her California "worm poop" farm and lovely partner, Arlo, to get Maggie to come to her senses regarding this pregnancy. As for Anne Marie, she struggles to maintain the outward appearance of the saintly martyr watching over Alice, who could slay an elephant with her narcissism. VERDICT In her second novel (after Commencement), Sullivan brilliantly lays out the case for the nearly futile task of these three generations of badly damaged Irish Catholic women seeking acceptance from one another while failing badly at self-acceptance. [See Prepub Alert, 11/29/10.]—Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI
Everyone has dark secrets. It's why God invented confession and booze, two balms frequently employed in Sullivan's well-wrought sophomore effort.
Alice Brennan is Irish American through and through, the daughter of a cop, a good Catholic girl so outwardly pure that she's a candidate for the papacy. But Alice, more than that, is an Irish rose, "one of the most special young women out there, just waiting for someone to take notice." When Sullivan (Commencement, 2009) introduces to her, someone has taken notice, and decades have rolled by, and Alice Kelleher is now reflecting on 60 years of life at a beachside cottage that her husband won at gambling. She spends her days drinking red wine, reading, "watching the waves crash against the rocks until it was time to make supper," and avoiding her children's pointed demands that she not drink so much—and especially that she not drive once she'd had a few belts. As Sullivan's tale unfolds, there are plenty of reasons that Alice might wish to avoid taking too close a look at her life: There's tragedy and heartbreak around every corner, as there is in every life. So it is with the intertwined tales of her daughter and granddaughter, who are more modern creatures, all bound up in confessional groups of their own, yoga, homeopathy and all the other stuff of the contemporary examined life. Sullivan spins a leisurely yarn that looks into why people do the things they do—particularly when it comes to drinking and churchgoing—and why the best-laid plans are always the ones the devil monkeys with the most thoroughly. The story will be particularly meaningful to Catholic women, though there are no barriers to entry for those who are not of that faith.
Mature, thoughtful, even meditative at times—but also quite entertaining.