"For the Kellehers, Maine is a place where children run in packs, showers are taken outdoors, and old Irish songs are sung around a piano at night. Their beachfront property, won on a barroom bet after the war, sits on three acres of sand and pine needles nestled between stretches of rocky coast, with one tree bearing the initials 'A.H.' At the cottage, built by Kelleher hands, cocktail hour follows morning mass, nosy grandchildren snoop in drawers, and decades-old grudges simmer beneath the surface.
"As three generations of Kelleher women descend upon the property one summer, each brings her own hopes and fears. Maggie is thirty-two and pregnant, waiting for the perfect moment to tell her imperfect boyfriend the news; Ann Marie, a Kelleher by marriage, is channeling her domestic frustration into a dollhouse obsession and an ill-advised crush; Kathleen, the black sheep, never wanted to set foot in the cottage again; and Alice, the matriarch at the center of it all, would trade every floorboard for a chance to undo the events of one night, long ago.
"By turns wickedly funny and achingly sad, Maine unveils the sibling rivalry, alcoholism, social climbing, and Catholic guilt at the center of one family, along with the abiding, often irrational love that keeps them coming back, every summer, to Maine and to each other."
"Alice decided to take a break from packing. She lit a cigarette, leaning back in one of the wicker chairs that were always slightly damp from the sea breeze."
If there were a prize for most-improved sophomore effort, I think J. Courtney Sullivan would win. Commencement was a decent enough read, but not really a serious one. While Maine is probably still closer to Oprah's book club than Pulitzer territory, it puts Sullivan in a category with Alice McDermott of poignant, nuanced, and highly accurate portraits of the Irish-American family. More details are available in Lily King's New York Times review, but I enjoyed this one, too.