By J. Courtney Sullivan
ABOUT THIS READING GROUP GUIDE
The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of Maine, J. Courtney Sullivanâs engrossing and entertaining new novel. If youâre not a member of a book club, consider starting one up with your mother or your daughterâMaine is a perfect family read.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Three generations of women converge on the family beach house in this wickedly funny, emotionally resonant story of love and dysfunction from the author of the best-selling debut novel Commencement (âOne of this yearâs most inviting summer novelsâ âThe New York Times).
The Kelleher family has been coming to Maine for sixty years. Their beachfront cottage, won on a barroom bet after the war, is a place where children run in packs, showers are taken outdoors, and threadbare sweaters are shared on chilly nights. It is also a place where cocktail hour follows morning mass, nosy grandchildren snoop in drawers, and ancient grudges simmer below the surface. As Maggie, Kathleen, and Anne Marie descend on Alice and the cottage, each woman brings her own baggageâa secret pregnancy, a terrible crush, and a deeply held resentment for misdeeds of the past.
By turns uproarious and achingly sad, Maine unveils the sibling rivalry, alcoholism, social climbing, and Catholic guilt at the center of one family, along with the abiding, often irrational love that keeps them coming back every summer to the family house, and to one another.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
The epigraph pairs two quotes; the first is from Elizabeth Barrett Browningâs poem Aurora Leigh: âAlas, a mother never is afraid, / Of speaking angrily to any child, / Since love, she knows, is justified of love.â The second is from a letter written by F. Scott Fitzgerald: âJust do everything we didnât do and you will be perfectly safe.â Why did the author put these quotes together? Which characters do you think they refer to?
If you had to choose one word to describe the overriding theme of Maine, what would it be?
Which of the women in the novel would you say is a good mother, and why? Who resents motherhood the most?
Discuss how each of the four main charactersâAlice, Kathleen, Maggie, and Ann Marieâapproaches religion. Who seems to have the most comfortable relationship with God?
What was Aliceâs motivation for changing her will? Why did she wait so long to tell her family?
Speaking of secrets, many of the characters in the novel keep substantial secrets for one reason or another. Whose is the most damaging?
What role does alcoholâand alcoholismâplay in the novel? How do the characters use alcohol (or abstain from it)?
âEven after thirty-three years of marriage, Ann Marie sat at every family dinner and listened to them tell the same stories, over and over. She has never met a family so tied up in their own mythology.â (page 140) What is the mythology of the Kelleher family? Who is helped the most by it? And harmed the most?
What does Ann Marieâs obsession with dollhouses tell us about her character?
After Danielâs funeral, Alice says to Kathleen, âYou killed him, and now you want me dead too, is that it?â (page 189) Why does she lash out like this?
Why did Danielâs death have such an impact on the family?
What did you think of the revelation about Maryâs death? Was Alice right to blame herself?
On page 301, Maggie says to Kathleen, âI actually want this baby. I donât feel itâs a mistake the way you did with us.â Why does Maggie feel this way about her mother? Do you agree with her assessment?
And on page 310, Kathleen says to Alice, âNews flash, Mom, you really werenât that talented. None of us stopped you from becoming anything. That was a stupid childish dream like everyone else has.â How does this relate to Maggieâs earlier outburst? How does the notion of sacrifice play into each womanâs story about herself?
How did Ann Marie misread Steve so completely? And why does Kathleenâs witnessing the event change her attitude towards Ann Marie? Why do you think Kathleen reacted the way she did?
What kind of mother do you think Maggie will be? Who will she take after most: Alice, Kathleen, or Ann Marie?
Discuss the last lines of the book: âShe prayed until she heard footsteps behind her, coming slowly down the aisle, a familiar voice softly calling out her name: âAlice? Alice. Itâs time.ââ Is this Father Donnelly, Daniel, or someone else?
Which of these women would you like to spend more time with? Are there any youâd never want to see again?
Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine by Ann Hood; A Wedding in December by Anita Shreve; Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg; Summer People by Elin Hilderbrand; The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute.
About the Author
J. Courtney Sullivan is the author of the best-selling novel Commencement. She lives in Brooklyn.