Three Junes by Julia Glass
So this is why Julia Glass won the 2002 National Book Award. Nine Junes later, I’m catching up! As I started out disappointed having read her third title first (I See You Everywhere), I admit to letting out one contented long sigh with this one.
Glass’ title of her impressive debut refers to three different months of June – 1989, 1995, 1999 – with each section told from a different character’s point of view, although all three are interrelated even if they don’t know that. And yes, it’s one of those novels where you’re both blessed and cursed to know so much more than the characters – characters so convincing, you think they must exist beyond the printed page, and if you could just find them, you could tell them The Truth.
The first June belongs to Paul McLeod, a Scottish widower traveling through Greece, both recalling and discarding his past – his relationship with his late wife, so distanced by her gradual withdrawal before her too-early death from cancer, and his tenuous bonds with his three sons, especially the wall that keeps him from revealing too much to his eldest. Paul is briefly dazzled by a free-spirited young American woman named Fern, “a painter traveling on fellowship,” she tells him. She leaves Paul with one of her sketches, an intimate moment between a mother and child … a picture that will make its appearance again …
Six years later, Paul’s son Fenno flies over the Pond to his childhood home in Scotland from Manhattan where he’s been living contentedly for 17 years, for a brief reunion with his siblings and their growing families. Amidst them all, he reexamines the most important relationships in his own life, especially with a brilliant, dying man his family had once mistakenly assumed was his lover. He’s faced with a momentous decision that will change his relationship with his siblings … including challenging his own ideas of what it means to be a family.
Another four years later, an older Fern takes the spotlight. Pregnant now, having shed her peripatetic painterly youth, she’s out in the Hamptons, visiting an ex-lover … when that ex-lover’s ex-lover appears … and turns out to be Fenno. Oooh … what did I tell you about knowing? Fern and Fenno find a near-instant bond with one another, as if they recognize one another even if they have never met before. Alliances are made, new relationships approached, old bonds are tested and renewed.
As for realizing so much more than any of these vivid characters do, in the end, you’ll have to be satisfied to just know. Oh, the delicious agony …