Maine, J. Courtney Sullivan’s followup novel after her bestseller Commencement, is an amazing family drama, set on the beach in Maine, that examines the lives of three generations of Kelleher women. There is the cold matriarch Alice, her daughter Kathleen, her daughter-in-law Anne Marie, and Kathleen’s daughter Maggie. What Maine does so brilliantly is the changes from one generation to the next and the ways in which each woman views the others. The preconceptions we build up as readers are slowly deconstructed with each new perspective. Alice was a woman who did not have many choices in life, especially in terms of childbearing or career. She wanted to be an artist, to live in Paris, to do all the things she dreamed about doing, but life got in the way. Kathleen is a recovering alcoholic who has finally followed her dream, across the country to California, where she owns a farm with her boyfriend. Her daughter Maggie relentlessly tries to please everyone, eventually realizing that she has to make herself happy. Anne Marie, perceived as perfect in every way, has to come to terms with this family that she has tried so hard to fit into but that she has never really connected with, despite her relationship with Alice.
Maine perfectly examines what it is like to be a part of a large Irish-Catholic family and this identity is central to this story, along with the novel’s setting on the Maine coast. For this Further Reading, I wanted to highlight other family sagas that have, at their core, a cultural identity and strong sense of place. What connects all of these stories is the fact that, despite their distinct cultural differences, anyone can connect to the characters.
A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth - In post-colonial India in 1950, four families represent a microcosm of Indian society, especially Lata Mehra as she decides between pleasing her family and marrying the Muslim man she loves.
Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela - Set in northern Sudan right before independence, Lyrics Alley is the story of the Abuzeid family. Like Lata, Nur is conflicted about maintaining his culture and embracing Western ideals. Lyrics Alley is a story that focuses entirely on one family, stuck in the middle of a changing world, but their story is a universal one of faith, love, and culture.
The Complete Essex County by Jeff Lemire – Essex County is a family saga that is set in a fictional Canadian county. Like the other novels in this Further Reading, the setting is integral to the story, especially since this is a graphic novel that relies on a strong sense of place and space to tell the history of one Canadian family. The story begins with the youngest member of this family, Lester, who lives with his uncle after his mother’s death. From there, the story slowly unfolds backwards and forwards in time as the true story of this family is revealed.