Synopses & Reviews
In her best-selling debut, Commencement
, J. Courtney Sullivan explored the complicated and contradictory landscape of female friendship. Now, in her highly anticipated second novel, Sullivan takes us into even richer territory, introducing four unforgettable women who have nothing in common but the fact that, like it or not, theyre family.
For the Kellehers, Maine is a place where children run in packs, showers are taken outdoors, and old Irish songs are sung around a piano. Their beachfront property, won on a barroom bet after the war, sits on three acres of sand and pine nestled between stretches of rocky coast, with one tree bearing the initials “A.H.” At the cottage, built by Kelleher hands, cocktail hour follows morning mass, nosy grandchildren snoop in drawers, and decades-old grudges simmer beneath the surface.
As three generations of Kelleher women descend on the property one summer, each brings her own hopes and fears. Maggie is thirty-two and pregnant, waiting for the perfect moment to tell her imperfect boyfriend the news; Ann Marie, a Kelleher by marriage, is channeling her domestic frustration into a dollhouse obsession and an ill-advised crush; Kathleen, the black sheep, never wanted to set foot in the cottage again; and Alice, the matriarch at the center of it all, would trade every floorboard for a chance to undo the events of one night, long ago.
By turns wickedly funny 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 Maine and to each other.
"Sullivan follows debut Commencement with a summer spritzer that's equal parts family drama, white wine, and Hail Marys. The story follows the struggles of three generations of Kelleher women: drunken Alice, the mass-going matriarch; her rebel daughter, Kathleen, a Sonoma County farmer; Kathleen's sister-in-law, the dollhouse aficionado Ann Marie; and Kathleen's daughter, Maggie, an aspiring writer. Rather than allowing the characters to grow or the plot to thicken, the novel's conflict derives almost entirely from the airing (or not) of various grievances (Alice believes herself responsible for her sister's death; Maggie is pregnant, single, and terrified; Kathleen is still the bitter person she was before she sobered up; Ann Marie has a martyr complex). The Kelleher summer home on the Maine coast is the putative center around which the drama revolves, yet it is the women's common love for Daniel, the patriarch rendered faultless in death, who does the most to bring the women together. The book's tension is watered down at best, like a sun-warmed cocktail: mildly effective, but disappointing. When conflict finally does break the surface, the exhilaration is visceral but short-lived. Late in the story, Kathleen tells Maggie, 'It's going to be okay,' to which she responds, 'It has to be.' Unfortunately, the reader never gets much chance to worry otherwise. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"In a glittering novel about fate, fantasy, and the anonymity of urban life, a lonely New York City woman uses her sons toy binoculars to spy on couples whose intimacy she craves." - O, The Oprah Magazine
"Dark, witty...[This] comedy about deceptive appearances evolves into a moving examination of intimacys limitations." — Kirkus
"Mirvis focuses her artful prose on the inner lives of modern women and those they love as they face the possibilities of change." - Booklist
"Mirvis (The Ladies Auxiliary) writes an intimate story about different types of relationships, including those with complete strangers...In this story of chance and the temptation of change, Mirvis elicits the readers sympathy for her characters conflicting desires." —Publishers Weekly
"Such is Mirvis's finesse and insight that she leaves the reader completely sympathetic with each character's dilemmas…Visible City is a beautifully rendered novel that takes on art, parenting, betrayal and the nature of love.” —Shelf Awareness
"Charming...readers curiosity will be piqued." — BookPage
“With artful tenderness and elegant compassion, Tova Mirvis strips her upscale Manhattanites down to their naked loneliness and longings. Her novel is as jewel-like as a stained glass window. Mirvis supplies the light, and the result is dazzling.”—Rebecca Goldstein, MacArthur award-winning author of 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction
“A fascinating maze of a novel, following the intersecting lives of two New York families as they come together and fall apart. Gorgeously written and enormously wise on the subjects of art, ambition, parenting, betrayal, and what it means to take care of the ones you love.” —Lauren Grodstein, author of A Friend of the Family
“Here the hidden is made stunningly visible. One by one, facades are stripped away and the luminous interiors of strangers' lives begin to emerge: in the view-field of a sleepless woman's binoculars, in the flashlight beams of subterranean urban explorers, in the radiance filtering through a long-lost stained glass window, and, always, in the light of Tova Mirvis's kaleidoscopic, tender vision. Visible City illuminates the hearts of both its characters and its readers.”—Rachel Kadish, author of Tolstoy Lied: A Love Story
“Visible City reminds us how strangers become intimates and intimates grow estranged. Mirvis writes with passion and unflinching honesty about the small grievances that accumulate until we no longer know the people we love.”—Joshua Henkin, author of The World Without You
Praise for the work of Tova Mirvis:
“Full of verve and chutzpah.”
—New York Times Book Review
“Poignant, funny, sophisticated.”
“. . . A revelation, a suspenseful and indelible journey through fate, love, luck, and what it means to be a family.”
—Lauren Grodstein, author of A Friend of the Family and The Explanation for Everything
“. . . a true storyteller, Allison Lynn pulls us deep into the hearts and minds of a young couple caught up in a high-risk tangle of money, morality, and mortality.”
—Hillary Jordan, author of When She Woke and Mudbound
“Sharp, consoling, hilarious . . . Her characters are as lovely and embarrassing as our own sweet selves.”
— Dan Barden, author of The Next Right Thing
“Touching and funny and insightful. . . a cautionary tale for the post-Lehman, post-Occupy era.”
—Natalie Danford, author of Inheritance
"Engaging portrait of female friendship...with wit and a gift for capturing the repartee between siblings and old friends, Lutz brings us a memorable and ultimately uplifting saga of three strong, unique women."--BookPage
"Few books have so expertly captured the intricacies and complexities of female friendship. Whipsmart and cunning, deeply funny and profoundly moving, Lisa Lutz’s How to Start A Fire is a knockout."--Megan Abbott, author of The Fever
"Telling the story of three women and their two-decade friendship, Lutz ventures away from her snarky Spellman Files series and ends up firmly in women’s-fiction territory. Outrageous Anna, contemplative Kate, and sporty Georgina (George) meet cute in college when roommates Anna and Kate come upon a very drunk George passed out on a frat-house lawn. The dissimilar women quickly become friends, and the book unfolds as a series of flashbacks from 1993 to 2014. Anna, once a doctor, ends up as a secretary after her substance-abuse problems cause her to lose her medical license. Kate becomes a drifter, unable to shake the fact that she killed a man (who was attacking George); and George moves from husband to husband, each time morphing into someone else’s vision of a perfect wife and mother. The characters are marvelous—each woman, despite having some over-the-top peculiarities about her, is relatable and fully dimensional. Lutz’s offbeat wit is also on display, such as in one character’s reliable getting-to-know-you question of, “Who would you save in a fire, Keith Richards or Pete Townshend? The answer is Pete Townshend. A fire wouldn’t kill Keith Richards.” Although the ending is a bit flat in comparison to the narrative drive of the story, this is an absorbing tale that will satisfy Spellman fans as well as women’s fiction readers who like a good ensemble story." --Booklist, STARRED
"Bestselling author Lutz (the Spellman Files series) hits a home run in this glorious exploration of friendship, which follows the trajectory of three college friends over 20 years. First there’s Kate Smirnoff (yes, “like the vodka,” she proclaims) raised by her grandfather after her parents’ accidental death when she was eight, destined to own her family’s business, a diner in Santa Cruz. There’s Anna Fury, an independent woman (yet needy for love) who eschews her upper-class background and has a penchant for adventure that almost upends her life. And then there’s George (Georgiana) Leoni, a gorgeous outdoorsy type with an uncanny perception about what makes people tick, yet who keeps falling for the wrong man. A traumatic event in their 20s binds the three women, and Lutz, moving back and forth in time, brilliantly intertwines their lives over the next two decades, as Kate leaves her sheltered life and explores the world, Anna pursues an M.D., and George becomes a forest ranger. The author portrays three fully drawn, flawed, and compelling women with fresh insight into the mysterious terrain of female friendships—a mix of shared experiences, affection, empathy, jealousy, anger, and love."--Publishers Weekly, STARRED
"With wit and a gift for capturing the repartee between siblings and old friends, Lutz brings us a memorable and ultimately uplifiting saga of three strong, unique women."--Bookpage
"Few books have so expertly captured the intricacies and complexities of female friendship. Whipsmart and cunning, deeply funny and profoundly moving, Lisa Lutz’s How to Start A Fire
is a knockout."—Megan Abbott, author of The Fever
"A tale of female friendship and the families we choose for ourselves, How to Start a Fire will keep you captivated from beginning to end."—Town & Country, "9 of the Best Beach Reads for 2015"
“Lutz hits a home run in this glorious exploration of friendship . . . [she] portrays three fully drawn, flawed, and compelling women with fresh insight into the mysterious terrain of female friendships—a mix of shared experiences, affection, empathy, jealousy, anger, and love.”—Publishers Weekly, STARRED
“The characters are marvelous...relatable and fully dimensional. This is an absorbing tale that will satisfy Spellman fans as well as women’s fiction readers who like a good ensemble story.”—Booklist, STARRED
"With this novel, Lutz joins the ranks of authors who write deeply and sensitively about the shadowy yet life-affirming terrain of female friendship. The characters are perfect because they are flawed and real and kind and cruel. And the story delivers staggering insights into the consequences of choice, no matter how insignificant a moment may seem at the time, as well as the meaning of forgiveness and the ways in which friends can become more like family than our own blood relations – for better or for worse."—Globe & Mail
"Engaging portrait of female friendship...with wit and a gift for capturing the repartee between siblings and old friends, Lutz brings us a memorable and ultimately uplifting saga of three strong, unique women."—BookPage
“A great choice for fans of women's lit and anyone who enjoys books about female friendship.”—Pensacola News Journal
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
(“One of this year’s most inviting summer novels” —The 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 baggage—a 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.
For fans of Meg Wolitzer and Allegra Goodman, an intimate and provocative novel about three couples whose paths intersect in their New York City neighborhood, forcing them all to weigh the comfort of stability against the costs of change
For fans of Meg Wolitzer and Allegra Goodman, an intimate and provocative novel about three couples whose paths intersect in their New York City neighborhood, forcing them all to weigh the comfort of stability against the costs of change. Nina is a harried young mother who spends her evenings spying on the older couple across the street through her sons Fisher-Price binoculars. She is drawn to their quiet contentment—reading on the couch, massaging each others feet—so unlike her own lonely, chaotic world of nursing and soothing and simply getting by. One night, through that same window, she spies a young couple in the throes of passion. Who are these people, and what happened to her symbol of domestic bliss?
In the coming weeks, Nina encounters the older couple, Leon and Claudia, their daughter Emma and her fiancé, and many others on the streets of her Upper West Side neighborhood, eroding the safe distance of her secret vigils. Soon anonymity gives way to different—and sometimes dangerous—forms of intimacy, and Nina and her neighbors each begin to question their own paths.
With enormous empathy and a keen observational eye, Tova Mirvis introduces a constellation of characters we all know: twenty-somethings unsure about commitments they havent yet made; thirty-somethings unsure about the ones they have; and sixty-somethings whose empty nest causes all sorts of doubt. Visible City invites us to examine those all-important forks in the road, and the conflict between desire and loyalty.
From a best-selling writer, a story of unexpected friendship—three women thrown together in college who grow to adulthood united and divided by secrets, lies, and a single night that shaped all of them.
From a bestselling writer, a story of unexpected friendship—three women thrown together in college who grow to adulthood united and divided by secrets, lies, and a single night that shaped all of them
When UC Santa Cruz roommates Anna and Kate find passed-out Georgiana Leoni on a lawn one night, they wheel her to their dorm in a shopping cart. Twenty years later, they gather around a campfire on the lawn of a New England mansion. What happens in between—the web of wild adventures, unspoken jealousies, and sudden tragedies that alter the course of their lives—is charted with sharp wit and aching sadness in this meticulously constructed novel.
Anna, the de facto leader, is fearless and restless—moving fast to stay one step ahead of her demons. Quirky, contemplative Kate is a natural sidekick but a terrible wingman (“If you go home with him, might I suggest breathing through your mouth”). And then there’s George: the most desired woman in any room, and the one most likely to leave with the worst man.
Shot through with the crackling dialogue, irresistible characters, and propulsive narrative drive that make Lutz’s books so beloved, How to Start a Fire pulls us deep into Anna, Kate, and George’s complicated bond and pays homage to the abiding, irrational love we share with the family we choose.
A couple escaping the over-the-top lifestyle of Manhattan's Upper East Side move to the quaint town of Newport, only to be confronted by truths they tried to leave behind.
A couple escaping the opulent lifestyle of Manhattans Upper East Side move to Newport, Rhode Island, only to be confronted by the trappings of the life they tried to leave behind.
Nate, a midlevel Wall Streeter, and his longtime girlfriend Emily are effectively evicted from New York City when they find they can no longer afford their apartment. An out presents itself in the form of a job offer for Nate in Newport—complete with a bucolic, small, and comparatively affordable new house. Eager to start fresh, they flee city life with their worldly goods packed tightly in their Jeep Cherokee. Yet within minutes of arriving in Rhode Island, their car and belongings are stolen, and they're left with nothing but the keys to an empty house and their bawling 10-month-old son.
Over the three-day weekend that follows, as Emily and Nate watch their meager pile of cash dwindle and tensions increase, the secrets they kept from each other in the city emerge, threatening to destroy their hope for a shared future.
A story about losing it all, the complexities of family histories, tainted gene pools, art theft, architecture, and the mad grab for the American Dream, The Exiles bravely explores the weight of our pasts—and whether or not it's truly possible to start over.
About the Author
TOVA MIRVIS is the author of The Outside World and The Ladies Auxiliary, which was a national bestseller. Her essays have appeared in various anthologies and newspapers including The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, and Poets and Writers, and her fiction has been broadcast on National Public Radio. She has been a Visiting Scholar at The Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center and is a recipient of a Massachusetts Cultural Council Fiction Fellowship. She lives in Newton, MA with her three children.
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 Sullivan’s engrossing and entertaining new novel. If you’re not a member of a book club, consider starting one up with your mother or your daughter—Maine is a perfect family read.
1. The epigraph pairs two quotes; the first is from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem Aurora Leigh
: “Alas, a mother never is afraid, / Of speaking angrily to any child, / Since love, she knows, is justified of love.” The second is from a letter written by F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Just do everything we didn’t do and you will be perfectly safe.” Why did the author put these quotes together? Which characters do you think they refer to?
2. If you had to choose one word to describe the overriding theme of Maine, what would it be?
3. Which of the women in the novel would you say is a good mother, and why? Who resents motherhood the most?
4. Discuss how each of the four main characters—Alice, Kathleen, Maggie, and Ann Marie—approaches religion. Who seems to have the most comfortable relationship with God?
5. What was Alice’s motivation for changing her will? Why did she wait so long to tell her family?
6. Speaking of secrets, many of the characters in the novel keep substantial secrets for one reason or another. Whose is the most damaging?
7. What role does alcohol—and alcoholism—play in the novel? How do the characters use alcohol (or abstain from it)?
8. “Even 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.” (page 140) What is the mythology of the Kelleher family? Who is helped the most by it? And harmed the most?
9. What does Ann Marie’s obsession with dollhouses tell us about her character?
10. After Daniel’s funeral, Alice says to Kathleen, “You killed him, and now you want me dead too, is that it?” (page 189) Why does she lash out like this?
11. Why did Daniel’s death have such an impact on the family?
12. What did you think of the revelation about Mary’s death? Was Alice right to blame herself?
13. On page 301, Maggie says to Kathleen, “I actually want this baby. I don’t feel it’s a mistake the way you did with us.” Why does Maggie feel this way about her mother? Do you agree with her assessment?
14. And on page 310, Kathleen says to Alice, “News flash, Mom, you really weren’t that talented. None of us stopped you from becoming anything. That was a stupid childish dream like everyone else has.” How does this relate to Maggie’s earlier outburst? How does the notion of sacrifice play into each woman’s story about herself?
15. How did Ann Marie misread Steve so completely? And why does Kathleen’s witnessing the event change her attitude towards Ann Marie? Why do you think Kathleen reacted the way she did?
16. What kind of mother do you think Maggie will be? Who will she take after most: Alice, Kathleen, or Ann Marie?
17. Discuss the last lines of the book: “She prayed until she heard footsteps behind her, coming slowly down the aisle, a familiar voice softly calling out her name: ‘Alice? Alice. It’s time.’” Is this Father Donnelly, Daniel, or someone else?
18. Which of these women would you like to spend more time with? Are there any you’d never want to see again?