From the very first page until the last, I could not stop reading this wonderfully vivid family drama. We meet each of the characters, one by one, in individual chapters devoted to them. In the first one, we meet Alice Kelleher, the matriarch, whose story really begins in a childhood filled with her father’s rages and her desire to escape. We then come to know, gradually, over the unfolding chapters in which she stars, about the loss of her sister Mary while they were on the cusp of their young adulthood, and how that moment informs the rest of her life.
Alice’s husband Daniel has been dead for ten years at the beginning of the story, and during the aftermath of that loss, she has been estranged from Kathleen, her oldest and Daniel’s favorite. Alice’s bitterness over this favoritism colors their relationship. But Kathleen, sober for twenty years, is happily ensconced in worm farming in the Napa-Sonoma Valley of California, with her recovering alcoholic partner Arlo. Her daughter and eldest child Maggie lives in New York enjoying the writer’s life, but struggling with her relationships. Something happens before that final summer of this story that will change everything for her.
Second daughter Clare is absent from the story, except as described by the others. Her absence says a lot about her relationship to the others.
Patrick, the youngest and only son, is visible through the eyes of his mother, sister, and wife. He is an “entitled” man who cannot believe that life isn’t always going to go his way.
In the summers, each family member descends upon the beach house and cottage in Maine, land that Daniel won in a card game. The subsequent cottage and then larger home came later. But the Kelleher family considers this their vacation home. They almost take it for granted, even as they meticulously divide up their time there. Each sibling has a month during the summer to really enjoy their “tenancy” there.
But what happens during this last summer in Maine that will change everything? What event for which Alice has decided to do penance will finally bring the lot of them into conflict and change their lives forever? Seeing how this conflict comes to a head and also visualizing it from each point of view brought forth the most palpable realization that, while family bonds are strong, they are also fragile. What connects family members is not always enough to withstand these tests. But maybe, despite their differences, this big Irish Catholic family, whose religion is another bond that sustains, even as it sometimes divides them, will find the key to what defines and ultimately saves them.
I loved the colorful characters and their stories in Maine. From the war torn years to the present, the effects of time and loss upon a family felt like something that could have happened in my own family. I could feel the tensions as the conflict built between the family members—and then, in one moment, see how forgiveness can transcend the pettiness. Even as I kept turning pages to see what would happen next, I also felt the sadness, the loss, as I knew that my time with the Kellehers would soon end. Five stars!