Drama at the family cottage
Author J. Courtney Sullivan made a name for herself in 2009 with a smart, incredibly resonant debut, Commencement, about four unlikely friends during their college years at Smith and the turbulent 20-something years that followed. With her sophomore effort, Sullivan turns from friendships to family, writing with the same warmth and nuance as in Commencement, but pushing her characters further, creating an even more complex and satisfying whole in Maine.
Maine revolves around the Kelleher family, a large Boston Irish-Catholic clan that has been vacationing for nearly 60 years at the same beachfront cottage, which fell into their laps in a bit of uncharacteristic luck. Weather-worn but packed with years of sun-soaked memories, the cottage was once a uniting force for the Kellehers, but in recent years, it seems to have been little more than a nuisance, and the family matriarch is preparing to make a rash decision about its future.
As she did in her first novel, Sullivan oscillates between narrators with a remarkable ease in Maine, capturing the summer from the perspectives of Alice Kelleher; her estranged daughter Kathleen, a recovering alcoholic with a holistic California farm; her revered daughter-in-law Ann Marie, who copes with her fledgling children and disappointing marriage through an obsessive dollhouse habit; and granddaughter Maggie, at a painful crossroads in her own life.
In Sullivan’s hands, the four considerably flawed but deeply sympathetic narrators come to life in a meaningful and believable way. Perhaps even more impressive, though, is Sullivan’s ability to again conjure a place so completely through description and careful attention to detail. Damp, salt-laden air and strong cocktails practically emanate from the pages of this pleasing story, which cements Sullivan’s status as a talented young writer to watch.