Three Junes (Glass)

Three Junes 
Julia Glass, 2002
Random House
353 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780385721424

Winner, 2002 National Book Award for Fiction

Julia Glass's National Book Award-winning novel is fundamentally a story of family, and of the way that the bonds of love can also become barriers between individuals longing to connect. But Three Junes also spans the final decade of the 20th century, and woven into the story of the Scots-American McLeods is a penetrating look at the circumstances of contemporary life. Dealing with issues ranging from the AIDS crisis to the impact of modern science on fertility, Glass's novel places its characters in a world whose problems will be familiar ones for reading groups.

The "Three Junes" of the title separate the action of the story into three separate sections, unfolding in three different years. The result is a triptych that—along with some of the issues raised—may remind readers of Michael Cunningham's 1999 novel The Hours. Three Junes opens in 1989 with the story of Paul McLeod, the Scots father of the family, who has just lost his wife to cancer, and his meeting with Fern, an American painter, when he takes a tour of Mediterranean islands. The second section jumps six years to follow Paul's son Fenno, a gay bookstore owner in New York City, and sketches his perspective on the McLeod family dynamics. Fenno's story incorporates that of his twin brothers David and Dennis and his problematic relationship to their more conventional lives.

The third June, in 1999, is told from the perspective of Fern, as she encounters Fenno through an unrelated connection, and thus weaves together the stories of father and son. There is no single event driving the plot—rather, book clubs will discover a wonderful opportunity for conversations about the subtle accumulations of events out of which the shape of a life emerges.

A central theme in Three Junes is memory and particularly the kind of memory that constitutes mourning. Living "in the moment" is a challenge for the McLeods—a universal issue sure to open many discussions about the how the past can take hold of our present lives. The novel opens with Paul's excursion to Greece after his wife's death—and his realization there that seeing almost any woman who resembles her can trigger an acute sense of her presence. This is movingly echoed in the section of the book in which Fenno describes his early years in New York in the late 1980s. Fenno is haunted both by the ghostlike memory of his mother, as well as the friends lost to the AIDS epidemic. Both men must struggle to find renewed meaning in lives that have changed in ways they could never have suspected. Fern, too, must struggle with the memory of a husband whose death came as a wrenching conclusion to a difficult relationship.

Finally, Glass has penned a story that always returns to questions of love and communication—and particularly the ways the two are not always in harmony. Critics have remarked that much of the novel takes place in island locations, from Scotland, to Greece, to the island of Manhattan. This motif underscores Glass's concern with how emotionally separated even the most loving people can become from one another. And while Fern's meeting with Fenno in a symbolic way bridges the gap between father and son, the words that did not pass between the two hang all the more noticeably in the atmosphere of Three Junes. Reading groups will enjoy following together Glass's exploration of these island-like souls, and looking for the evidence of the messages sometimes sent between them. (Bill Tipper—From the publisher.)

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