Thursday, September 8, 2011

Maine: A Novel

 I was so looking forward to this book, and saved it for most of the summer, but after reading it I have to say that I didn't love it. It had all the elements I like--family saga, strong women, summer home on the coast--but it never really pulled me in.  The story covers three generations of the Kelleher family, and is told through the voices of four characters: Alice,  the crabby old matriarch (with a tragic past, of course, that we learn about in pieces) and who owns the property in Maine; Kathleen, the estranged daughter who runs a worm farm in California with her hippie boyfriend; Maggie,  the granddaughter who is a writer in New York and who has just broken up with her loser boyfriend (and finds out she is pregnant); and Ann Marie, the daughter-in-law who tries to keep the peace in the family and is weirdly obsessed with dollhouses. There are some side line characters, another sister, Clare,  a brother Pat, and a Catholic priest. We get glimpses into the earlier, happier times they spent at the Maine house as a family, but most of the book is about the characters' unhappiness and anger with their lives and with each other. You never get the feeling that anyone really likes each other. In fact, their summer arrangement is that each family takes a month to use the beach house--Kathleen gets June, Pat gets July, and Clare gets August, and they rarely overlap.  I kept thinking about Olive Kitteridge for some reason (which also takes place in Maine), and Alice is no Olive. Olive was abrasive and crabby, but there was a heart underneath her crust, and I never felt that with Alice. 

What I found most disappointig was that there was no feeling of Maine in the book. Sure the house is there, but you never get a feel for the locale--the ocean, the rocks, the seafood, the weather, nothing like that. It could have taken place anywhere, it is just a house and not a happy one. In fact we never even get to Maine until the last quarter of the book. And finally, underlying all the issues and family dysfunction is the question everyone is wondering,  who is going to inherit the house in Maine?

It's readable, but be prepared for a whiny cast of characters.

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