The Engagements is one of the best books I read this year, so naturally I had to see what else J. Courtney Sullivan had to offer me. Maine reminds me a little bit of Judy Blume’s Summer Sisters, but instead of focusing on two lifelong friends Maine focuses on one seriously messed up Irish-American family, the Kellehers.
Alice Kelleher is old and alone and losing quite a few of her marbles several years after her husband Daniel passed away from an aggressive cancer. She lives at the family’s cottage in Maine for most of the year, giving her lots of time to reflect on (mostly painful) memories from her past, including the tragic death of her sister Mary. Alice’s relationships with her daughters are very strained — Kathleen is on the outs because she moved to California for a new love interest and a weird job (something to do with worms and farming) after her messy divorce, and Clare and her husband just don’t see/talk to Alice enough — but her son Patrick and his wife Ann Marie are just the bees knees in Alice’s eyes, which is nothing less than infuriating for Kathleen and Clare. Alice also has a history of alcohol abuse, which she so generously passed down to Kathleen.
Alice’s granddaughter/Kathleen’s daughter Maggie is 32 and pregnant with her @sshole boyfriend Gabe’s baby and trying to figure out how to tell her strictly Irish Catholic family while hiding out at the cottage. Clare’s son Ryan is most likely gay but not out, while Patrick and Ann Marie’s son Little Daniel just got fired from work for looking at porn on his computer, daughter Fiona is off in the Peace Corps and just came out to her horrified mother, and other daughter Patty is a successful businesswoman with three adorable little children, but their father/her husband is Jewish, which just about kills Ann Marie. Each branch of the Kelleher clan spends one month at the cottage every summer so that they never overlap/have to spend much time together, but this summer is turning out to be a bit different.
You see, Alice has gone and signed away the cottage — as well as the enormous house Patrick and Ann Marie built next to it to accommodate their growing families — to her beloved Catholic church and attractive young priest friend, allegedly to make herself feel better about her sister’s death all those years ago (which she swears was her fault) but also to kind of stick it to her children and grandchildren. All hell breaks loose when the rest of the family finds out. Sounds like a fun bunch, eh?
I can’t say my family is at all similar to the Kellehers in any way, but I strongly identify with the story as a whole because it deals with the often painful way a family changes as time passes, and it addresses this phenomenon from multiple people’s perspectives. It’s not just the granddaughter from Brooklyn escaping to Maine for the summer or the mean old grandmother complaining about the way she’s treated, it’s everyone’s misery, individually and intertwined, and no one addresses anything directly with one another. That, we can all identify with.