Centuries of June [NOOK Book]


Keith Donohue has been praised for his vivid imagination and for evoking “the otherworldly with humor and the ordinary with wonder” (Audrey Niffenegger). His first novel, The Stolen Child, was a national bestseller, and his second novel, Angels of Destruction, was hailed as “a magical tale of love and redemption that is as wonderfully written as it is captivating” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). Centuries of June is a bold departure, a work of ...
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Centuries of June

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Keith Donohue has been praised for his vivid imagination and for evoking “the otherworldly with humor and the ordinary with wonder” (Audrey Niffenegger). His first novel, The Stolen Child, was a national bestseller, and his second novel, Angels of Destruction, was hailed as “a magical tale of love and redemption that is as wonderfully written as it is captivating” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). Centuries of June is a bold departure, a work of dazzling breadth and technical virtuosity.

Set in the bathroom of an old house just before dawn on a night in June, Centuries of June is a black comedy about a man who is attempting to tell the story of how he ended up on the floor with a hole in his head. But he keeps getting interrupted by a series of suspects—eight women lying in the bedroom just down the hall. Each woman tells a story drawn from five centuries of American myth and legend in a wild medley of styles and voices.

Centuries of June
is a romp through history, a madcap murder mystery, an existential ghost story, and a stunning tour de force at once ingenious, sexy, inspiring, and ultimately deeply moving.
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Editorial Reviews

Jon Clinch
Donohue puts a wide range of voices and methods to work, some of which succeed better than others. But what lies beneath is his delight in exploring the interplay of reality and fantasy, of things temporal and eternal…For all of its complexity and ambition, Centuries of June captivates mostly in the small things, the little bits of textual and theatrical sleight-of-hand that Donohue pulls off without much apparent effort.
—The Washington Post
From the Publisher

"Part ghost story, part psychological mystery and part vaudeville show. Think Scheherazade by way of “Tristram Shandy” by way of “The Sixth Sense.”—Washington Post

"A tour de force in its mastery of styles, the book also has moments of high silliness—though toward the end Donohue weaves the threads of plot together in a surprising and affecting way."—Kirkus Reviews

"Donohue's faultless eye for character and keen sense of humor keeps what could easily become a muddled mess pristine, with members of his quorum shining individually but also acting as cogs in the larger story's machinery. There are moments when the reader is left to wonder how things can possibly come together, but it's worthwhile to trust Donohue's narrators as they lead this puzzling and greatly satisfying trip."—Publishers Weekly

“Donohue’s polished prose holds the story together and offers a more than satisfying ending.”—Booklist

“VERDICT: Donohue’s tour de force blends aspects of time travel and reincarnation genres into a witty whole. With a touch of David Mitchell and Audrey Niffenegger, but a witty style uniquely the author’s own, this novel about a clueless man, who may in some future life get it right, is a pleasure to read.”—Library Journal

“[T]he product here is uniquely Donohue, and the craft seamless in the spinning of an absorbing skein of yarns in a marvelous display of voice weaving together to form a single tapestry: a “parti-colored utterance” (to quote Annie Dillard) unfolding about love, mortality, men and women, memory, family, and the fundamental force of storytelling.” —Buffalo News

Library Journal
Donohue caught everyone's attention with his fine-tuned debut, The Stolen Child, and did well with the subsequent Angels of Destruction. Here, his protagonist tries to explain why he is lying on the floor of a bathroom with a bullet in his head, but the suspects in his murder—eight women lying in a nearby bedroom—keep complicating matters. Seems darker, less whimsical, but as imaginative as Donohue's preceding works; definitely watch.
The Barnes & Noble Review

Centuries of June opens with a stock conceit: that of the brained protagonist adrift in dreamland. Bleeding in the bathroom from a head wound of unknown provenance, the novel's narrator seems to be preparing himself for his pre-mortem whirlwind autobiographical tour with a Freudian dream-daddy--a crowing old coot, a fatherly apparition--as his Virgil. As author Keith Donohue renders the scene of the crime with a certain grotesque lyricism--blood washing over cool, hair-dappled bathroom tiles, the synasthetic savor of a sucking wound--the proceedings take on an obligatory, writing-exercise cast. But already, a trickster element intrudes: dream daddy, who may be the narrator's father and yet also bears a striking resemblance to Samuel Beckett, sits on the rim of the bathtub calling for a shot of whiskey, yelling and coughing as yellow feathers fly from his mouth. The mystery deepens when our narrator, headed to the kitchen in search of said whiskey, spies eight slumbering nude women tangled in his bed.

And soon we're immersed in a psychic puzzle of charming invention. Brandishing an elaborately-carved redwood club, the first of these maddened muses awakens to menace the addled narrator--much later, we learn his name is Jack--but she is dissuaded from braining him by a forcible word from the feather-spouting old man. Her name, Shax'saani S'ee, means "younger daughter's doll" in the language of the Tlingit, a seafaring people of Southeast Alaska; Defeated, the woman begins telling the tale of her marriage to a bear in the cool, humid groves of Tlingit mythology while Jack, his head still ringing and bloodied, wonders at her tale.

Lured deep into the forest, she was wooed and won by a handsome stranger; in the uncanny logic of myth, it took her a shockingly long time to figure out that he's actually a bear. But in time she tired of the dank cave and the lonely winters spent watching her hirsute brood hibernate. She sent a message to her brothers far away, who came to kill and skin her husband and bring her home. Her family took her in for a time, but her cub-children were hated and feared, and she could no longer stand the mincing ways of men. Fully feral, she returned to live amid the wary bears, an immigrant dependent on her children to translate her words into the tongue of the animals. Donohue's telling of her tale here mixes the mythic register with contemporary lyric prose:

In warm months she moved among them in an uneasy truce, teaching herself the old ways, but they gave her wide berth...She could only watch their new families from a distance. The fragrance of foamflower and coralroot every June reminded her of the husband...She felt as if she was becoming a bear herself as she aged. At twenty-five years, she could no longer stomach the sight of her own reflection in the water, and at thirty, she felt as if she had lived forever in the purest silence, bereft of all language she had once known.

It's a lovely tale, but to Jack it presents a puzzle: what does it have to do with him? He's never met the lovely young Tlingit, nor seen, much less been, a brown bear. And the old man, while seeming to take his side, also delights in the feminine ire Dolly bears towards Jack.

One by one, each of the slumbering women awakens to tell her tale to Jack and the old man. Each heralds her arrival in the bathroom with an attempt on Jack's life--a flung frying pan, an ugly handgun, the abortive swing of a baseball bat--all deftly parried by the old man, whom Jack takes to calling Beckett. Each woman is a menacing manad, a vengeful virago, a divine sigil of dysfunctional gender relations. And yet in the mysterious and lethal animosity each bears for Jack, and preeminently in the stories of injustice and under-requited love they tell, they're also roundly-drawn characters in their own rights. The serial singularity of their tales only leave a stunned and addled Jack wondering where he fits in, how these distinctive divinities come to associate him with their tales of woe.

Donohue manages the dream logic well, modulating registers from one mystery muse to the next with mostly-subtle shifts in dialect and voice. When the key to the puzzle finally is disclosed, however, the answer is an obvious one, and a bit of a new-age, pop-psych let-down, lacking the intellectual crackle of Borges and the tooth-gnashing comedy of Beckett--qualities this seductively irreal novel seems to want to foster. And yet there's a satisfaction in the telling, and in the notion that stories find their resonances even across the generational tides of forgetting, that ultimately the tale is the only transcendent force we can bring to bear against death and its savage requitals.

--Matthew Battles

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307450302
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/31/2011
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 735,035
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Keith Donohue
Keith Donohue is the author of the acclaimed novels The Stolen Child and Angels of Destruction. For several years he was a speechwriter at the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C., and he now works at another federal agency. He lives with his family in Wheaton, Maryland.
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Read an Excerpt

We all fall down. Perhaps it is a case of bad karma or simply a matter of being more prone to life’s little accidents, but I hit my head and fell hard this time around. Facedown on the bathroom floor, I watched my blood escape from me, spreading across the cool ceramic tiles like an oil slick, too bright and theatrical to be real. A scarlet river seeped into the grout, which will be murder to clean. The flow hit the edge of the bathtub and pooled like water behind a dam. I blinked, and in that instant, the blood became a secondary concern to the hole in the back of my head, not so much the fact of the wound, but the persistent sharpness of pain around the edges. Yet even the knot of it weighs lightly against the mysterious cause of my immediate predicament. I have an overpowering urge to reach back and stick my fingers over the wound to investigate the aperture and determine the radius of my consternation, but despite the willful signals of my brain, my arms will not obey, and I cannot alter a single aspect of my situation.

Which is: I have landed in an awkward position. My left arm pinned beneath me, my right extending straight out as if to catch something or break my fall. My legs and lower half stretched out in the dark and silent hall, and on the threshold, bisecting me neatly, would be my belt, if I were wearing any clothes. But I am, regretfully and completely, naked, and the jamb presses uncomfortably into my abdomen and hips. I have a hole in the back of my head and cannot move, although the pain is becoming a distant memory.

Just a second ago, I turned on the light, having awakened in the middle of the night to relieve my bladder, and something struck me down. A conk on the skull and my body pitched to the floor like dead weight. My left shoulder is beginning to throb, so perhaps it struck the edge of the commode as I fell. The bathroom fan hums a monotonous tune, and harsh light pours down from the ceiling fixture. Through the open window, the warm late-night air stirs the curtain from time to time.

Falling seems to have happened in another lifetime. Even as I tumbled, stupefaction began to gnaw at me and consume all. In that nanosecond between the blow and timber, my mind began to hone in on the who and the why. When the hardness struck bone, just at the base of my skull, an inch above my neck, when I began to lose balance and propel headfirst to the fl oor, my vision instantly sharpened as never before. All the objects in the room lost dimension, clarified, flattened as if outlined in sharp bold black, a cartoon of space. I saw, for the very first time, the cunning design of the sink, the way the dish and the soap were made for each other. The nickel handles curved for the hand, the faucet preened like a swan. A hairbrush, its teeth clogged with the tangles of many crowns, lay pointed in the wrong direction; that is, the handle was on the inside of the counter rather than the more conventional placement at the outer edge. A fine coating of mineral deposit from a thousand showers clung to the folds of the partially opened curtain, and one of the aquamarine rings had lost its grip on the deep blue plastic fabric, forlorn and forgotten on the rod. The floor sped to meet my face. Not just the pleasing geometry of tiles, but all the detritus of the human body, the hair and scruff and leavings, and as I fell, I thought a good scrubbing was definitely overdue.

Bathrooms are the most dangerous place in a house. With daily weather conditions approaching levels found in the Amazon, germs and other microbes flourish, and bacteria reproduce in unrelenting blooms across every moist surface. One could easily perish here. Seventy percent of all house hold accidents occur in this room and, in addition to hitting one’s head, include scalding, fainting from an excess of heat and humidity, poisoning, and electrocution. Because we spend so much leisure and indulge in self-pampering—long soaks in warm baths, ablutions, digestive relief, perfuming our hair and bodies, scraping away unwanted hairs, polishing our teeth, trimming our nails, reading the funny pages—the bathroom seems as warm and wet as mother’s womb, yet it is a death trap all the same.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 7, 2011

    tough going

    Reading the jacket synopsis I was excited and anticipating a great read.I found the going tedius and exasperating. The storyline while trying to follow a historic line through he lives of these women, was not enough to hold my attention. The bear woman was especially oft putting.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 20, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Imag­i­na­tive and Funny

    "Cen­turies of June" by Keith Dono­hue is a fic­tional book where a man meet his past con­sorts. The book's time­line is irrel­e­vant since it com­pro­mises of sev­eral unre­lated tales which all have a com­mon denominator.

    A man wakes up to use the bath­room in the mid­dle of the night. Some­how he finds him­self lying on the floor with a gash­ing wound in his head. Another man appears which the man thinks might be his deceased father.

    One by one sev­eral women appear try­ing to kill the nar­ra­tor and then sit and tell their life story. Yes, we're still in the bathroom.

    "Cen­turies of June" by Keith Dono­hue is not an easy book to describe or cat­e­go­rize. The whole book takes place in a bath­room where a man meets his scorned wives/lovers from past lives, all of whom were unlucky in life and they blame him - with good rea­son.
    Imag­ine the horror.

    I found the book imag­i­na­tive and funny, but I have a dark, sar­cas­tic sense of humor which, by the way, my beloved wife (may she live a long life) hates. Each wife tells a story which involves heartache, strug­gle, love and usu­ally some sort of death. The one thing each story has in com­mon is the nar­ra­tor who is lying dying on the bath­room floor with a hole in his head.

    Since each wife tells a tale, the book moves between gen­res and times. Some of the sto­ries are fan­tasy, urban myth, mythol­ogy or a folk tale - yet all the sto­ries are enter­tain­ing and the char­ac­ters are vivid. The author sprin­kles humor around the macabre for good measure.

    The book is pep­pered with ref­er­ences to other famous books - some­thing which this bib­lio­phile found amus­ing. It is a strange, uncon­ven­tional book, some­times funny, some­times sad, some­times con­fus­ing, and some­times just plain crazy.

    Some­how it all works - don't ask me how.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 7, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Creative Storytelling. Fantastic Read.

    My Blurb: Jack awakens in the middle of the night to find himself face down on the bathroom floor with a hole in his head and he is not alone. One by one guests appear with weapons that might be the cause of the hole in Jacks head and one by one they share their tragic life stories faulting Jack as the one for their misfortune. Is this all a dream or reality? Lets Talk About It: What a fantastic read! This book was much like a who done it murder mystery dinner served up in the format of a book. What a creative way to tell a story. Each chapter provides a glimpse into the lives of the strangers who have entered Jack's bathroom. It's a very unique way to have told Jack and the ladies stories and it kept me intrigued enough to read it whenever, where ever I had the opportunity to do. And I didn't see the ending coming like I can in most books. I had no clue where the story was going to end up or how it was going to play out. If you are looking for a book that is well written with a great story to keep you entertained pick this one up! Melissa Reviewer for 1000 + Books to Read

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  • Posted June 30, 2011

    Waiting for Donohue

    A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Crown Publishers to review Centuries of June by Keith Donohue. Although Mr. Donohue has published two other novels, The Stolen Child and Angels of Destruction, I was not familiar with him. I am always thrilled and excited to read new authors so I readily accepted.
    It is difficult in this age of instant gratification and self publishing to find original and intriguing stories. You know how it is you pick up a book and start reading an instantly know you have read this story before except instead of Miami it was set in Milan and instead of the protagonist being Joe its Juan. Oh honestly I don't blame the authors, especially if they are avid readers, it's just a natural progress to begin incorporating other stories within your own. Not so with this story. He did incorporate other stories but he made them his own by entwining them into his own tale.
    I began reading Centuries of June by Keith Donohue and immediately the movie began playing in my mind. I love it when an author can create a story so vivid I loose all sense of space and time and this is exactly what Mr. Donohue accomplished I had instantly cast each player as they appeared and I could see in my mind's eye the whole scene play out.
    A young man struck in the head and the 7 women who visit him through his stupefied state. The old man who protected and helped him through the journeys of his mind and who and what was he really? Each visit opened more questions with little resolve, each ghostly and beautiful visitor adding to the mystery as well as the question as to why our main character was bludgeoned in his own bathroom. The more you read the more you try to decipher who the old man is and why is he there, why are these women all trying to kill our poor architect and who is the woman asleep in the bed facing the wall.
    Mr. Donohue's writing style kept me turning the page and his story kept me enthralled. His dark humor and storytelling abilities kept me on the edge of my seat waiting for the punch-line. He took me into that cold tiled bathroom and then carried me from primeval forests of the pacific northwest through the gold rush and on into the early 20th century reminding me of the pain and suffering women have lived through to give me the freedoms I have today. More importantly he told the story of the man's own insecurity and strife.
    I thoroughly enjoyed my romp through the centuries with Mr. Donohue and his rough and primal ghosts. I highly recommend this to those with an adventurous spirit and an open mind.

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  • Posted June 22, 2011

    more from this reviewer


    Centuries of June only barely held my interest. I found in some cases that I skipped the narrative altogether! While I've love Keith Donohue's books in the past and was really looking forward to this one, it was terribly disappointing.

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    Posted March 28, 2013

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    Posted July 11, 2011

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    Posted January 24, 2013

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    Posted October 23, 2011

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