Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan
With the publication of her debut novel, Commencement, in 2009, J. Courtney Sullivan adeptly proved her ability to inhabit multiple consciousnesses simultaneously, slipping easily between the narratives of different women whose disparate perspectives are often at odds with one another but voiced with equal depth and sympathy. Sullivan exercises this skill again in Maine, a delectable beach read as vast and sprawling in scope as the Kellehers’ three-acre family property it details. Won by Daniel, the deceased head of the family, in a poker game six decades before the book opens, the Kelleher summer home is still at the mercy of the fates and the family matriarch, Alice, who takes to heart the letters that Daniel carved into a tree at the fork of the road leading to the cottage: A.H., Alice’s house. But Alice’s prodigal daughter Kathleen; daughter-in-law Ann Marie, whose perfectionism is channeled into a cleverly conveyed obsession with dollhouses; and granddaughter Maggie, struggling to carve out a functional adulthood amidst heartbreak and disappointment; all stake their own claims on the Kelleher house as well as on the family history of alcoholism, tragedy, dark secrets and Catholic guilt that persists through generations. In Maine, Sullivan explores with grace, depth and good humor what it means to belong to an Irish-American family. – Kara Rota (386 pages / Knopf / $25.95)