Recap: Every family has its fair share of drama, and the Kellehers are no exception. Take Alice, the 83-year-old matriarch of the family. She’s a moody widow who holds high standards for others, likes a glass or two (or three) of wine, flirts with her much younger priest and has a secret, which causes her a lot of painstaking guilt. Then there’s her daughter, Kathleen, a 15-years-sober alcoholic, who is divorced, living off her father’s financial legacy that he left almost entirely to her on a “worm poop” farm with her boyfriend in California. There’s Kathleen’s daughter, Maggie. She’s a mess of a 30-something, living in New York City in an apartment she can barely afford, all the while hoping to make it big as a writer and to convince her awful boyfriend to commit to her. Last but not least, there’s Ann Marie — the wife of Kathleen’s brother. Ann Marie is a snooty, condescending do-gooder who doesn’t work, but builds and decorates doll houses and has a shameful secret of her own.
These four women have enough drama individually, in their own houses and apartments. But when they all converge on the family summer beach house in Cape Neddick, Maine for a few weeks in June, sparks are bound to fly, some in a good way, and others in a not-so-good way.
Analysis: Maine is mostly a character study of these four women, but the story goes much deeper than that. It revolves around the inter-generational relationships within a family. With chapters alternating between four narrators — Alice, Kathleen, Ann Marie, and Maggie — we see the differences between three generations — Alice comes from a generation that is more religious and reserved, while Maggie’s is more free-spirited. The generations in which these women were born affect the way they handle the difficult moments in their lives. Alice hides things. Kathleen drank. Maggie relies more on her friends than her family — at first. The generations also affect their relationships with each other. Alice is used to families being private, whereas Maggie wants to talk about her feelings with her family and doesn’t know how to do it.
The inner workings of these women say so much about women and families in the present day. There’s often underlying tension that’s never addressed, until it becomes too much to bear and is released all at once. That’s what happens when these women finally see each other in person. For some, the relationships sever a bit. For others, learning each others’ secrets helps the women to gain respect for each other. But that still doesn’t mean they have to like each other. Women are interesting creatures. We hold grudges and have trouble letting go of the past. Maine is a beautiful, sad and simultaneously funny novel about what happens when four adult women try to move forward when their pasts keep pulling them back. A relatable, gripping, and moving novel for any modern-day woman — young or old.
MVP: Maggie. She’s the youngest, but also becomes one of the strongest. At the end of the novel, it becomes clear that Maggie has grown up a lot in just the short summer in which we read her story, but it also becomes clear that she’s going to continue to grow so much — in a good way.