Sunday, June 7, 2015

Clever how the cosmos can, in a single portent, be ingratiating yet sadistic

Three JunesThree Junes by Julia Glass
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading a collection of short stories and a memoir this past week, I found myself yearning for fiction - a world with more interconnected characters and plot twists.

My wish was granted by Julia Glass's Three Junes, a novel in three parts that traces the separate (yet linked) events of three Junes in 1989, 1995 and 1999 respectively.  In the first third of the novel, Collies, Paul McLeod travels to Greece after his wife's death, where he meets new people yet cannot tear his thoughts away from his memories of the past. In Upright, Paul's gay son, Fenno McLeod, recounts his custodiary/ relationship with the enigmatic music critic Malachy Burns. Finally, in Boys, Fern (a girl Paul met in Greece), Fenno, Fenno's lover (Tony, who was also romantically linked to Fern at one point) and Fenno's brother are , and everyone's past and present intertwine.

The most memorable feature of the novel is Glass's use of flashbacks - pieces of the past interspersed everywhere that explain as much about the characters as they do about the present. It is through Paul's memory of his late wife crying about the death of a fellow collie-trainer, for example, that we suspect the possibility of an affair (a suspicion confirmed in Upright). All three parts of the novel are thus connected: they all involve the McLeod family, contain at least one death, and revolve around love. The way the three parts are sewn together, as a triptych, means that each "June" is crucial to our understanding of the other Junes. To some of the characters, fate is the thread that elegantly brings them together:
When it comes to life, we spin our own yarn, and where we end up is really, in fact, where we always intended to be.
And such layering lends the novel its mysteries and complexities. We, looking at the world through Paul's eyes in Collies, believe that his son Fenno is romantically involved with Malachy Burns; however, only in Upright do we learn that Fenno and Mal's relationship (and Mal, for that matter) is far more complex. Similarly, our impression of Fern is shallow at best from Collies, but she is given the depth she deserves in Boys.

The best third of the novel is Upright; it could stand alone and sustain itself marvellously. Indeed, it effortlessly outshines the other two. From Fenno's perspective, we learn about the conflict he feels between meeting his deceased father's expectations of being upright and balancing the complex feelings he harbors for both Tony and Mal. At the same time, we also witness the affection that passes between him and his nieces; such are the joys of family. Furthermore, the dialogue in this story is remarkably witty and its ending is striking (and, I confess, tear-inducing).
Invisible threads connect the three Junes and are understood by the reader, who can often see what the characters cannot. Yet we are also often surprised by what each new June reveals about our understanding of love and family:
To love me, my family does not need to understand me.
Mind who you love. For that matter, mind how you are loved
To have children is to plant roses, muguets, lavender, lilac, gardenia, stock, peonies, tuberose, hyacinth is to achieve a whole sense, a grand sense one did not priorly know. It is to give one's garden another dimension. Perfume of life itself.”
Through Three Junes, I am once again reminded of the true pleasure that reading brings - the intertwining layers of a good story, the secrets of its characters, the sympathy and exasperation we feel towards them. It is certainly a thoughtful, captivating and well-sequenced novel. 
People take their same old lives wherever they go. No place is perfect enough to strip you of that.
Time plays like an accordion in the way it can stretch out and compress itself in a thousand melodic ways. Months on end may pass blindingly in a quick series of chords, open-shut, together-apart; and then a single melancholy week may seem like a year's pining, one long unfolding note.
Splinters in the heart, invisibly and erratically painful: this is how Fern has thought of her accumulating sorrows. Impossible to expel or withdraw; if you’re lucky, they slip out on their own. but perhaps they are more like the seeds inside a brightly patterned gourd, beyond germination but essential to the wholeness of the gourd itself. Without breaking its durable, ossified skin, you cannot remove them; sometimes they will clatter about and make themselves known. It’s just the nature of things.
When it comes to love, there is the timeworn caution that the very qualities you fall hardest for may be those you grow to despise.
Some of us have the infinity of the ocean at our doorstep, others the platitude of a nicely groomed hedgerow. ... And some of us, lucky dogs, see cascading stars while the rest of us see none and think, disdainfully, that they must be a hallucination. ... Some of us get love ... as right as it can be - and others get everything else but.

View all my reviews