This is a novel about love. Don’t expect the simpering, rose-colored love of Mills and Boon novels, or the towering torments of a Thomas Hardy novel. This is not the slick, modern-day version of Hollywood’s romantic comedies, where the audience feels an overwhelming sense of relief as the tremendously attractive couple finally wakes up in bed together, the morning after: in a soft-focus glow, with the girl’s lip gloss intact. End of story.
This is about the kind of love we encounter in our daily lives, sometimes not even recognizing it as such. It may be confused or mistaken for another emotion; and it is often incomplete, unpredictable, unsure of itself.
Many kinds of love are woven into the narrative, creating a complex, sophisticated and increasingly rich emotional tapestry that never becomes sentimental. A gay man mourns the death of his friend from AIDS; an aging widower is fascinated by a young art student; a son regrets his increasing coldness towards his father; a woman sits up all night with determined devotion, while her dog gives birth to puppies.
This is the story of the McLeods: the tentative but enduring love of the parents, Paul and Maureen, recently deceased; their eldest son Fenno, a bookseller living in New York; their twin sons David (a humorless vet) and Dennis (a joyful restaurateur), and their respective wives, Lil and Véronique.
This is not a family saga in the traditional sense; we learn a great deal about the family through the people who impinge on and complicate their lives. We meet the cool, seductive Tony, a photographer, a skilled lover: “the proud pilot of an improvised life,” without attachments, he leaves no trace in the people’s homes he takes care of. We also get to know the luminously fragile Mal, an art critic who faces his death from AIDS with a combination of stoicism, wry humor and an increasingly brutal honesty. We are introduced to Stavros, “a man who wakes up happy each day.” And there is Fern, the golden-haired artist, whose voice we hear towards the end of the story.
“Three Junes” begins with a holiday in Greece, full of memories and vague regret. The second, major part of the novel resonates with Fenno’s voice, as he arrives at the family farm in Scotland for his father’s funeral. Fenno speaks so eloquently that, dear reader, you may find yourself thinking, wondering, breathing, worrying with him – even listening to the whispers of his beloved adopted parrot, Felicity. Aloof and brittle, quick to judge himself and others, Fenno is surprised to find in himself a depth of caring and unselfishness through his relationship with Mal.
Then, the third June: a lively, but edgy and somewhat inebriated dinner at one of Tony’s adopted homes, vivid with moonlight and the heightened, often jarring voices of the dinner guests, some by now old friends. Yet, as they drive back into New York the next morning, the story ends (and one wishes it not to end at all), with a sense of pleased recognition, a “kind of security, like the settling of an anchor on a harbor floor.”
Read, and you will be charmed into embracing that feeling, too. Perhaps it’s love.
Author Note: Julia Glass, a relatively unknown author, received the National Book Award for Fiction for her first novel, “Three Junes,” in 2002 and dedicated it to “everyone who blooms late in life…because you never, never know.” Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1956, she graduated from Yale with an art degree and received a fellowship to study painting in Paris. Returning to live in New York, she exhibited her art and worked as copy editor and occasional columnist for magazines. She moved from painting to writing short stories; a novella entitled “Collies” became the first part of “Three Junes.” She received a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, three Nelson Algren Fiction Awards, the Tobias Wolff Award, and the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society Medal for Best Novella. Much of her writing came out of a period of personal challenges, when she divorced, was diagnosed with breast cancer, and dealt with the suicide of her older sister. Glass cites a long list of influences, including Shakespeare, Pope, her “unattainable” muse George Eliot, Jim Harrison, Iris Murdoch and Peter Cameron. Her second novel, “The Whole World Over,” was published in 2006. Julia Glass now lives in Massachusetts with photographer Dennis Cowley and their two sons.
- Nina Sankovitch: Great Titles to Add to the NYT Best of 2010 Lists (huffingtonpost.com)