October 04, 2003

Three Junes

I recently finished Three Junes, by Julia Glass. I never used to read anything designated as a Good Book (a/k/a National Book Award winners and the like); they were usually too depressing and besides, I preferred something with a story rather than a self-reflecting ponderous trudge through the thesaurus. But either literary novels have changed or I have. Iíve been reading them with more pleasure lately. Iíve even (dare I admit this) (come closer, Iíll whisper it in your ear) started to choose them over the genre novels stacked to the ceiling in my guest room.

So I started Three Junes after hearing glowing things about the book and reading at least one interview with the author that made me fall half in love with her (she lives (lived?) with her partner and their two boys in a tiny apartment in Greenwich Village, she studied art, she sounds funny and wise). I was looking forward to it but worried, too. I mean, I bought the book, I didnít take it out of the library. I made a commitment. What if it was deadly dark and smugly self-congratulatory after all?

Itís split into three sections. The three Junes, you see. I wasnít sure what to think at first. Glassís supple but uncluttered writing kept me involved, as did her real-feeling characterizations, but I wasnít quite hooked. That didnít happen until the second section, the one centering on (and narrated by) Fenno, the gay Scotsman living in New York.

In interviews, Glass has likened her novel to a triptych, with two smaller images flanking a central scene. I completely see this. The first and third sections, each with their own main character, both serve to illuminate the longer middle section. This both works and doesnít work. I loved the way the novel opened up or, rather, became deeper and more emotionally textured once we hit Fennoís story. A blossoming, an unfolding. What you want in a story. But it felt odd to then switch voices and become involved in yet another personís story. And itís a smaller story in its way, though certainly still involving issues of life and death, birth and grief. I started falling out of the book at this point, was finally able to put it down and go do things like take showers and make dinner. An impressive thing to try, though. And it does resolve much of the ďwhat happened to him after that?Ē emotional tangle without hitting you over the head with it.

Donít mistake me, this criticism is minor compared to the overall. This is one of those books that stay with you, that make you feel sad and not-sad, closing it with a smile and an open heart. Fenno and his complex weave of relationships (especially the central one) stay with me now, weeks later. I think this is one of those books that will linger always.

Posted by Tamar at October 4, 2003 08:50 PM