This one’s a keeper! The writing’s good. The characters are people you will definitely cotton to. And it’s summertime in Maine at the beach.
J. Courtney Sullivan has done a bang- up job showing us a family full of dysfunctionals who remind us of people we may just know or be related to.
The story surrounds a three acre prime beach front property on the craggy coast of Maine. Daniel, Alice Kelleher’s late husband, won the plot of land in a barroom bet in 1945. Over the years two cottages have been built and used to house the family each summer.
This particular summer proves to be challenging. Each of Alice’s three children and their families will be arriving for their designated month. No two families ever converge at the same time. Ever. For any reason. Only Alice is in residence the entire summer.
Alice is up early dressing for church and putting on a full face of makeup. She keeps her page boy hairdo black, even now at the age of 83. After morning mass each and every single day, Alice enjoys cocktail hour, or I should say hours. And reminisces through her past. She is haunted by an especially acute memory from her youth, before her marriage. She is convinced she is the cause of a terrible tragedy in the family. So, she prays. A lot.
Four women are front and center. Alice, the matriarch, is a tough old bird. She is candid and strong-willed. Kathleen is Alice’s daughter; the wayward black swan who has moved to California where she lives out her life with a partner who compliments her. Patrick’s wife Ann Marie is almost insipidly dominant at times. Since she has married up into this family, she is not on the same level as the other women. But she is actually the one who has been closest to Alice, being there for her when needed. Maggie is Kathleen’s 32 year- old daughter who finds herself in a bit of a mess, and comes to the summerhouse knowing not where to go with her life.
Sullivan takes her time setting up this story. In fact, too much time is spent in the middle with “preparing” for the summer. But, don’t let that keep you from this fine novel. It all comes together when much of the family get to Maine. Tempers fly apart, words are tossed that can never be retrieved, and the family finds themselves in the midst of something Alice has done that will change all their lives forever.
The Catholic church plays a big role in this story even though there has not been much mention of it before now.
Alcoholism plays another large role. It is dealt with uniquely.
The culmination of this novel is satisfying. Well done. This is one of my favorite reads this year.