Book reviews, new books, publishing news, book giveaways, and author interviews

Review: Maine by Courtney Sullivan


Maine by Courtney Sullivan Review: Maine by Courtney Sullivan



My family is one thats full of strange rifts and cracks: a grandmother whos sealed herself off from both her own family and her husbands after being slighted as a young woman; an uncle who will drive three hours to put in an appearance at a family event and then hightail it after hes finished his first beer; cousins at war over perceived parental preference during their childhood yearsa series of events culminating in a massive blow-up at a recent wedding; and perhaps worst of all, a frosty, distant'toleration of each other.

The old saw of blood being thicker than water has nothing to do with standing by people because theyre your family and youre as a result connected by some lovely deep bond. Its about being stuck with your kin no matter how awfully you treat each other. (After all, you might need a blood transfusion one day, and guess whos most likely to be a good match?) And all those iniquities, abuses of trust, and brutal comments resonate down through the generations, slowly poisoning whole family trees until their leaves curl up and their branches slump.

Needless to say, Courtney Sullivans'Maine is readily identifiable for most anyone who has wallowed in the rueful depths of the familial trough. Told from the perspective of four women from the Kellerher clan, its a painful look at the myriad ways in which our families influence the types of lives we lead, but also at how our own perspectives can be so very coloured by our own experiencesor at least the stories that we tell ourselves about that experience.

The family matriarch is eighty-something Alice, a stern and unforgiving woman who feels simultaneously abandoned and exploited by her family, whom she rarely sees save during the summer. Her daughter Kathleen treads warily around her, having been the subject of Alices acid tongue after having leaving her marriage and admitting to her alcoholism. Daughter-in-law Anne Marie is the golden child interloper, a Stepford Wife-style homemaker who can do no wrong in Alices eyes, but who has a rough past longing to rear its bogan head. Maggie, Kathleens daughter, is a writer who appears to the others to have it alla successful career in New Yorkbut who has found out that shes pregnant to her deadbeat boyfriend. And as its summer, all of them are about to converge upon Alices beach house in Maine.

The Maine of the title is less about the physical place than it is an idea: the notion of returning home and reuniting with ones clan. And as such its probably fitting that the majority of the narrative takes place in the lead-up to this pilgrimage rather than in Maine itself: its in the preparation that we can see the hesitation and ambivalence each character feels about not only returning to Maine, but also their place in the family itself. This is a novel thats largely driven by internal narratives rather than a strong external plot, and generally its a skilled work, with Sullivan cleverly teasing out various grass is greener ideas and dashing them quite violently with the next point of view switch.

Initially I enjoyed the authors deft contrasting of different characters perceptions of their relatives lives and the truth behind their own actions, but after a while the approach does begin to feel a little contrived and repetitive. We know that if Alice is wounded by her familys treatment of her shes probably done something nasty to deserve it; if Kathleen is proud of her daughter Maggies independence, Maggie probably thinks its not all cracked up to be; if Maggie is longing for domestic servitude a la Anne Marie, then Anne Marie is probably about ready to hurl some crockery across the room and so on.

The reliance on dark pasts and prior hurt also begins to feel a little melodramatic, and perhaps thats why I was most taken by Anne Maries character. Unlike the others, who are well and truly in touch with their individual narratives of woe, Anne Marie is doing her best to put on a brave smile and forge ahead. As such, she seems as though she has the most to lose; not to mention that her position in the family is fairly precarious given that shes only a part of it through marriage.

Unfortunately, while theres some lovely, witty writing and some fascinating characterisation on display, the novel is quite bloated and unwieldy, and undermines itself by delving back into the past to try to shed some more light on its point of view characterseven though the reader can glean quite a lot just from what is and isnt said by the characters themselves. The ending, too, is unsatisfying, lacking the punch that we might have expected based on all of the ills and complaints stirred up here. I cant help but feel that this would have been a stronger book if it had been pruned back and its narration kept to the present day. That said, if your family is as dysfunctional as mine, youll find it all a bit cathartic: life could be worse.


Rating: star Review: Maine by Courtney Sullivanstar Review: Maine by Courtney Sullivanstar Review: Maine by Courtney Sullivanblankstar Review: Maine by Courtney Sullivanblankstar Review: Maine by Courtney Sullivan

Support Read in a Single Sitting by purchasing'Maine'from one of the affiliate links below:

Amazon'|'Book Depository UK'|'Book Depository USA'|'Booktopia

Other books by Courtney Sullivan:

Commencement by J Courtney Sullivan Review: Maine by Courtney Sullivan


  1. An interesting analysis Stephanie, I read this early last year and like you found it fairly uneven and bloated

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks, Shelleyrae. I really liked parts of it, but felt that it was striving way too hard for narrative symmetry.

  2. I remember having similar thoughts on reading Maine. It started off really strong and then the characters seemed to become less three-dimensional as you went along.

    • Stephanie /

      Absolutely, Laurie. Its a shame, because I was really quite impressed by the first few chapters.

Comments make us happy! Do say hello!

Follow us on Blog Lovin' Follow on Bloglovin