Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Three Junes — Julia Glass

When a book comes highly recommended, I am not one to turn away from it. I know what it feels like to push a certain book with all my heart and soul, hoping people will believe me when I say "This book is simply sensational." This was just such a book, from Carlin, and we chose to do something a little different this month: I would read this, and she would read my recommendation to her, The Time Traveler's Wife. (How many reviews can I mention that book in?!)

I'll start off by saying that Three Junes is no easy read. The writing style is not complicated — it's actually rather simple. But like many books that cover numerous characters and span many, many years, it can seem a little too detailed, covering more than enough of the person's life, until you all of a sudden have to ask, "OK, so... what's the point of this? Where is this story going?"

The book tells three separate stories, centering around (can you guess?) three different Junes for three specific characters. The years covered, however, are numerous, with each story going back and forth through different periods of each character's life. The first subject is Paul McLeod, an older Scotsman who is vacationing in Greece following his wife's death. He tells us about about his life, his wife and her breeding collies, and their sons, along with his search for something on this tour of Greece. The second character (providing the meat of the book and the bulk of the story) is Fenno McLeod, Paul's oldest son. Paul recounts his life in New York City, gay life of the 80's, along with a trip to Scotland for his father's funeral. The final story is the only one told in the third person, centering on Fern — a girl who met Paul during his trip to Greece and who is visiting a friend, Tony, outside New York City.

Yes, it sounds complicated. No, it isn't as complicated to read as it is to describe.

The characters are all connected, their stories overlap, but that is merely a fact of the story, not any sort of plot point. Essentially, their connections make no major difference to their own tales. Fenno's story is the fullest, the most detailed, and covers the most events. It is difficult to figure out just why Glass decided it was necessary to have the two bookends. They were interesting, and I enjoyed them very much (particularly Fern's story, and her own relationships), but Fenno's story could very much have stood on its own.

Even though a lot happens in the book, it becomes clear (not soon enough) that it is about relationships and life decisions and family, more so than any particular events or catastrophes. The best thing about the book is the character development, the unique and beautifully detailed lives of each and every character (and there are many — not just our main three). Among these are Fenno's twin brothers, David and Dennis, who are as individual and interesting as could be for minor characters. (Dennis, without a doubt, was my very favorite.) Also, there is Mal — Fenno's close friend who is slowly dying of AIDS. One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the way their friendship never becomes romantic, and the bonds that can develop in a relationship that doesn't enter into the realm of sex.

I understand what Carlin loved about this book; I enjoyed the same aspects. But I can't say I would recommend it. It didn't capture me the way I felt it should, and there were far too many moments that seemed to repeat itself. Fenno's story (and only Fenno's story) would make a fantastic film, condensing all the many, many details into something a little more streamlined.

Not a total strikeout, but not quite a standout.


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