{beach read}

So in honor of the holiday, I refrained from posting a Friday Favorite this week. And by that I mean that I was at my gramma’s on Tgiving with no Internet, and was too lazy/busy knitting leg warmers to post upon returning home Friday afternoon. Such is life.

But leg warmers are complete! Civil War game was attended! Ducks were victorious! And Maine is finished.

When I first heard about Maine this summer, I remember reading a review that said the cover was totally misleading: Rather than a fluffy beach read, this was a rich literary novel that explores the depths of human character and the complexities of generational gaps and family relationships. Or something like that. I’m paraphrasing.

The point is, while I found it to fall under the (for me) incredibly loosely defined category of literary fiction, it was a very quick read and felt like something I would take to the beach. Do I just not know what a beach read is? Probably.

Maine is the story of the Kelleher family, told through the perspectives of four powerful women: Alice, the 83-year-old matriarch, feared and hated by almost all her living relatives; Kathleen, her daughter, who found herself trapped in an unfulfilling lifestyle and was then estranged from her family when she rebelled; Ann Marie, who married Kathleen’s brother and attempts to maintain their image as the perfect family; and Maggie, Kathleen’s daughter, who’s pregnant, recently single, and unsure what to do about all of it.

The narratives delve into the pasts and presents of these four women, all of whom in some way are living a lie, and center around the family beach house in Maine, a summer destination for four generations of Kellehers. The climax comes when all four women, through circumstances both foreseen and unplanned, find themselves together at the beach property for the first time in ten years.

Interestingly enough, the aspect of this book that stood out the most to me was how much I disliked all the characters except Maggie. As I’ve said before, I usually don’t like books if I don’t like the characters, but this one had enough action and intrigue to keep me enjoying it until the end. That said, I found Ann Marie to be silly and foolish; Kathleen was rude with the sole purpose of attracting attention and, in her early 60s, was way too old to still be doing that; and Alice was outright cruel and manipulative. Again, the book focuses heavily on the influence of the past, with all of these women conscious of their flaws and attempting to amend or excuse them through identifying what has shaped them. Maggie definitely had her flaws, but I found them more understandable and forgivable. Is that just because she was the youngest? Were my aspirations, motivations, and perspectives most in line with hers simply due to age? I honestly don’t know. At Thanksgiving this week, I found myself wanting to ask my mom, aunt, and/or gramma to read this to see if they developed a different opinion. (Although honestly, Alice especially was so horrible that I’d actually be terrified if someone in my family identified with her.)

The other part of this book that caught my interest was how much these characters misunderstood or misled each other. True, they were each concealing significant parts of themselves (the whole “living a lie” thing), but at times, they seemed completely blind to each other’s wishes. This was highlighted by several instances in which a single event was retold by multiple characters, with the dialogue and action remaining the same, but the inner monologue and emotional reaction completely different. Now, I don’t consider myself to be a phenomenal judge of character, but I’m no slouch, either (I don’t think). But I found myself wondering just how common these misunderstandings are in real life. I definitely frequently find myself in situations where I attempt to analyze why another person behaved in a certain way (and often I don’t do this alone—hooray for gossip chains), and find myself concluding that this-or-that must have been the reason, simply because I can’t conceive of anyone feeling differently. Clearly, this is a healthy attitude toward human interaction, and so far it’s served me as well as one would expect. But without a shared narrative (or mockumentary-style confessions à la The Office), how are you supposed to understand differently? It’s beyond me.

Next on my library list is On Canaan’s Side, which appears to be a similar historically focused, “contemporary women” read. Judging books by their cover! Next week, I’ll be embarking on a whirlwind roadtrip to the Bay Area for job interviews and other activities practiced by the unemployed, which may or may not involve living on a boat with no wireless and therefore a lot of reading time. Cheers!

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