Maine: Through Page 322
The No-Obligation Book Club reads J. Courtney Sullivan’s multigenerational tale.
Hello again, Bookies!
It seems that at the end of every third of the book there’s a major Alice revelation; last time, we found out about her drunk driving accident. In this last chapter, we finally learn the story behind the death of her sister, Mary. And now her lifelong guilt starts to make sense. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
In this next section of the book, we learn about Ann Marie’s real secret—the fact that her golden child, Little Daniel, has been fired from various jobs because he has an attitude/laziness problem. He also seems to have a problem with downloading porn on his work computer and “accidentally” charging it to the company’s expense account. Oops. For such a supposedly smart kid, this is really beyond idiotic. Ann Marie is also ashamed of her daughter Fiona, who is gay, and is terrified that the rest of the family will find out. The more I learn about Ann Marie and her close-mindedness, the more I dislike her. She would rather cover up the truth and lie to herself and everyone else rather than face reality, deal with issues, and admit that her life and her family aren’t perfect. In fact, her situation reminds me a little bit of Maggie’s—Maggie is also in denial about her horrible relationship with Gabe, though Maggie’s denial stems more from her desire to be loved and to create a family, since her own family was torn apart. Ann Marie wants to be envied and admired. We do learn that despite her patient, saintly façade the Kellehers aggravate her constantly—and, yes, I felt a little bad for her—but I still don’t like her! Are you also disliking Ann Marie more and more as you spend more time in her head?
I’m glad Maggie decided to go to Maine by herself (not that I doubted she would, from a plot standpoint). I love how we see the juxtaposition of Alice’s and Maggie’s perspective on the same events: Alice didn’t like Maggie’s other friends because they never spent time with her and treated her like she was running a B&B, while Maggie thought Alice didn’t want their company. Alice shuts down Maggie when she asks how she met Daniel; Maggie is hurt and confused because she thinks Alice doesn’t want to be close to her, while Alice is hiding the whole painful story about Mary’s death. Alice thinks Maggie wants stories of her life to use in her novel, but Maggie just wants to be close to her grandmother. It’s like Sullivan is dropping little reminders throughout the novel—don’t trust what anyone says or how they act; there’s always another side to the story, another perspective to consider.
It’s also interesting that Alice loves Gabe so much, considering what a loser he is—she clearly prefers men to women, and has a weakness for handsome, charming ones. Why do you think Alice opens up more to men than women? Do you think she responds so well to Gabe simply because he lavishes attention on her, or is it because she sees something of herself in him?
Foolishly, Maggie calls Gabe while she’s up in Maine—but when she realizes that he isn’t fazed by their breakup, she seems to finally come to her senses about what type of guy he really is and e-mails him a note informing him that she’s pregnant. What do you think Gabe’s reaction will be? Will he make an appearance in Maine to talk to Maggie? (Somehow, I think not.)
And then we return to Alice, whom I find the most fascinating out of the four women. Once again, we learn something awful that Alice has done: At Daniel’s funeral, she publicly accuses Kathleen of killing her father and wanting all of the family’s money. Why do you think Alice dislikes Kathleen the most out of her family? Is it jealousy—because Kathleen was Daniel’s favorite? Is it because Kathleen and Alice are so similar and Alice hates seeing her own negative qualities in someone else? Or because Kathleen, being the oldest, is able to remember her mother’s drunken behavior when they were children and Alice resents her for it?
We finally get to hear the story about Mary and learn that Alice and Daniel met on a blind date set up by her brothers. At the dance, we see Alice’s jealousy of Mary and her situation: expensive clothes, fancy friends, an about-to-propose boyfriend who adores her. Mary is poised to attain the glamorous, carefree life Alice herself had always wanted. Alice picks a fight with Mary and deliberately says things to hurt her. Although they both end up leaving the club, Mary goes back inside to get the gloves that Alice borrowed from her without asking, left behind, and then refused to retrieve. And, of course, that’s when the fire inside the club breaks out—and neither Mary nor her boyfriend, Henry, escapes. It’s a tragic, heartbreaking story, and now we understand why Alice has been scarred for life by it. It’s interesting that she ends up with Daniel as a result. Is he an escape from a lonely life with her parents? A punishment for her sister’s death? A way for her to become a different person so that she can forget her past? I feel so much sympathy for Alice at the end of this chapter—losing her sister, putting aside her artist dreams, not having her husband understand that she doesn’t want to be a mother. The scene at the artists’ party with Alice as an outsider watching the festivities, “with her swollen belly and her two children in bed down the road, waiting with their ears perked for her to return home” was such a sad one for me. In an earlier chapter, there was another great line: “She looked at her three children sitting there, staring and demanding more—more food from the icebox, more time, more love—as if they owned her.” You really feel how motherhood and domesticity has sucked the life out of her, taken away her passions and dreams, her soul. Unlike Ann Marie, I find myself becoming more sympathetic toward Alice the more I learn about her. It seems that she’s spent her whole life punishing herself for her sister’s death, but by extension, she ends up punishing the rest of the family, too.
It was hard for me to stop reading at this point, so I’m glad that I can finally move on and finish the rest of the book. As always, I’m eager to hear your thoughts—leave your comments and questions below. For next Friday, we’ll be reading to the end. Here’s what I hope happens: I want Alice to crack and finally show some emotion and love; Ann Marie to break down and admit to her flaws; and Maggie to man up, ditch Gabe, and forge ahead with confidence. For Kathleen, I would love to see some sort of reconciliation with or understanding of her mother—even a very minor one. I guess we’ll find out soon enough!