An astonishing first novel that traces the lives of a Scottish family over a decade as they confront the joys and longings, fulfillments and betrayals of love in all its guises.
In June of 1989 Paul McLeod, a newspaper publisher and recent widower, travels to Greece, where he falls for a young American artist and reflects on the complicated truth about his marriage. . ..Six years later, again in June, Paul’s death draws his three grown sons and their families back to their ancestral home. Fenno, the eldest, a wry, introspective gay man, narrates the events of this unforeseen reunion. Far from his straitlaced expatriate life as a bookseller in Greenwich Village, Fenno is stunned by a series of revelations that threaten his carefully crafted defenses. . .. Four years farther on, in yet another June, a chance meeting on the Long Island shore brings Fenno together with Fern Olitsky, the artist who once captivated his father. Now pregnant, Fern must weigh her guilt about the past against her wishes for the future and decide what family means to her. In prose rich with compassion and wit, Three Junes paints a haunting portrait of love’s redemptive powers.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Edition description:||First Anchor Books Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Julia Glass is the author of the best-selling Three Junes, winner of the 2002 National Book Award for Fiction; her previous novels include, most recently, And the Dark Sacred Night and The Widower's Tale. A teacher of fiction and a recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Glass lives with her family in Marblehead, Massachusetts.
Hometown:New York, New York
Date of Birth:March 23, 1956
Place of Birth:Boston, Massachusetts
Education:B.A., Yale College, 1978; Scholar of the House in Art, Summa Cum Laude, 1978
Read an Excerpt
Paul chose greece for its predictable whiteness: the blanching heat by day, the rush of stars at night, the glint of the lime-washed houses crowding its coast. Blinding, searing, somnolent, fossilized Greece.
Joining a tour–that was the gamble, because Paul is not a gregarious sort. He dreads fund-raisers and drinks parties, all occasions at which he must give an account of himself to people he will never see again. Yet there are advantages to the company of strangers. You can tell them whatever you please: no lies perhaps, but no affecting truths. Paul does not fabricate well (though once, foolishly, he believed that he could), and the single truth he's offered these random companions–that recently he lost his wife–brought down a flurry of theatrical condolence. (A hand on his at the breakfast table in Athens, the very first day: "Time, time, and more time. Let Monsignor Time do his tedious, devious work." Marjorie, a breathy schoolmistress from Devon.)
Not counting Jack, they are ten. Paul is one of three men; the other two, Ray and Solly, are appended to wives. And then, besides Marjorie, there are two pairs of women traveling together, in their seventies at least: a surprisingly spry quartet who carry oversize binoculars with which they ogle everything and everyone, at appallingly close range. Seeing the sights, they wear identical, brand-new hiking boots; to the group's communal dinners, cork-soled sandals with white crocheted tops. Paul thinks of them as the quadruplets.
In the beginning, there was an all-around well-mannered effort to mingle, but then, sure as sedimentation, the two married couples fell together and the quadruplets reverted more or less to themselves. Only Marjorie, trained by profession to dole out affection equally, continues to treat everyone like a new friend, and with her as their muse, the women coddle Paul like an infant. His room always has the best view, his seat on the boat is always in shade; the women always insist. The husbands treat him as though he were vaguely leprous. Jack finds the whole thing amusing: "Delightful, watching you cringe." Jack is their guide: young and irreverent, thank God. Reverence would send Paul over the edge.
Even this far from home there are reminders, like camera flashes or shooting pains. On the streets, in the plazas, on the open-decked ferries, he is constantly sighting Maureen: any tall lively blonde, any sunstruck girl with a touch of the brazen. German or Swedish or Dutch, there she is, again and again. Today she happens to be an American, one of two girls at a nearby table. Jack has noticed them too, Paul can tell, though both men pretend to read their shared paper–day before yesterday's Times. By no means beautiful, this girl, but she has a garish spirit, a laugh she makes no effort to stifle. She wears an eccentrically wide-brimmed hat, tied under her chin with a feathery scarf. ("Miss Forties Nostalgic," Maureen would have pegged her. "These gals think they missed some grand swinging party.") Little good the hat seems to have done her, though: she is sunburnt geranium pink, her arms crazed with freckles. The second girl is the beauty, with perfect pale skin and thick cocoa-colored hair; Jack will have an eye on that one.
The girls talk too loudly, but Paul enjoys listening. In their midtwenties, he guesses, ten years younger than his sons. "Heaven. I am telling you exquisite,"says the dark-haired girl in a husky, all-knowing voice. "A sensual sort of coup de foudre."
"You go up on donkeys? Where?" the blonde answers eagerly.
"This dishy farmer rents them. He looks like Giancarlo Giannini. Those soulful sad-dog eyes alone are worth the price of admission. He rides alongside and whacks them with a stick when they get ornery."
"Oh just prods them a little, for God's sake. Nothing inhumane. Listen–I'm sure the ones that hump olives all day really get whacked. By donkey standards, these guys live like royalty." She rattles through a large canvas satchel and pulls out a map, which she opens across the table. The girls lean together.
"Valley of the Butterflies!" The blonde points.
Jack snorts quietly from behind his section of the Times. "Don't tell the dears, but it's moths."
Paul folds his section and lays it on the table. He is the owner and publisher of the Yeoman, the Dumfries-Galloway paper. When he left, he promised to call in every other day. He has called once in ten and felt grateful not to be needed. Paging through the news from afar, he finds himself tired of it all. Tired of Maggie Thatcher, her hedgehog eyes, her vacuous hair, her cotton-mouthed edicts on jobs, on taxes, on terrorist acts. Tired of bickering over the Chunnel, over untapped oil off the Isle of Mull. Tired of rainy foggy pewtered skies. Here, too, there are clouds, but they are inconsequential, each one benign as a bridal veil. And wind, but the wind is warm, making a cheerful fuss of the awning over the tables, carrying loose napkins like birds to the edge of the harbor, slapping waves hard against the hulls of fishing boats.
Paul closes his eyes and sips his ice coffee, a new pleasure. He hasn't caught the name for it yet; Jack, who is fluent, orders it for him. Greek is elusive, maddening. In ten days, Paul can say three words. He can say yes, the thoroughly counterintuitive neh. He can wish passersby in the evening–as everyone here does him–kalespera. And he can stumble over "if you please,"something like paricolo (ought to be a musical term, he decides, meaning "joyfully, but with caution"). Greek seems to Paul, more than French or Italian, the language of love: watery, reflective, steeped in thespian whispers. A language of words without barbs, without corners.
When he opens his eyes, he is shocked to see her staring at him. She smiles at his alarm. "You don't mind, I hope."
"Mind?" He blushes, but then sees that she is holding a pencil in one hand and, with the other, bracing a large book on the edge of her table. Her beautiful companion is gone.
Paul straightens his spine, aware how crumpled and slouched he must look.
"Oh no. Down the way you were. Please."
"Sorry. How was I?" Paul laughs. "A little more like this?" He sinks in the chair and crosses his arms.
"That's it." She resumes her drawing. "You're Scottish, am I right?"
"Well thank God she hasn't mistook us for a pair of Huns," says Jack.
"Not you. You're English. But you," she says to Paul. "I can tell, the way you said little, the particular way your t's disappeared. I'm wild about Scotland. Last year I went to the festival. I biked around one of the lochs. . . . Also, I shouldn't say this, you'll think I'm so typically rudely American, but you look, you know, like you marched right out of that Dewars ad. The one, you know, with the collies?"
"Collies?" Paul sits up again.
"Oh, sorry–Madison Avenue nonsense. They show this shepherd, I mean a modern one, very tweedy, rugged, kind of motley but dashing, on the moors with his Border collies. Probably a studio setup out in L.A. But I like to think it's real. The shepherd. The heather. The red phone booth–call box, right? . . . Inverness." She draws the name out like a tail of mist, evoking a Brigadoon sort of Scotland. "I'd love to have one of those collies, I've heard they're the smartest dogs."
"Would you?" says Paul, but leaves it at that. Not long ago he would have said, My wife raises collies–national champions, shipped clear to New Zealand. And yes, they are the smartest. The most cunning, the most watchful.
"Hello here you are, you truants you." Marjorie, who's marched up behind Jack, bats his arm with her guidebook. "We're off to maraud some poor unsuspecting shopkeepers. Lunch, say, at half past one, convene in the hotel lobby?" Paul waves to the others, who wait beyond theCafé awning. They look like a lost platoon in their knife-pleated khakis and sensible hats, bent over maps, gazing and pointing in all directions.
"Tally ho, Marj!" says Jack. "Half one in the hotel lobby. Half two, a little siesta; half three, a little . . . adventure. Pass muster with you?"
"Right-oh," she says, saluting. She winks, accepting his tease.
This has become their routine: The first full day of each new place, Marjorie directs an expedition for souvenirs–as if to gather up the memories before the experience. While the others trail happily behind her, Jack and Paul read in a taverna, hike the streets, or wander through nondescript local ruins and talk about bland things, picking up odd stones to examine and discard. Paul buys no souvenirs. He should send cards to the boys–he did when they were in fact boys–but the kinds of messages adults send one another on postcards remind him precisely of the chatter he dislikes so much at drinks parties or sitting on a plane beside yet another, more alarming breed of strangers: those from whom you have no escape but the loo.
There's one on every tour, Jack says of Marjorie: a den mother, someone who likes to do his job for him. And Marj is a good sport, he says, not a bad traveler. He likes her. But she exasperates Paul. She is a heroine out of a Barbara Pym novel: bookish, dependable, magnanimously stubborn, and no doubt beneath it all profoundly disappointed. At an age when she might do well to tint her hair, she's taken up pride in her plainness as if it were a charitable cause. She dresses and walks like a soldier, keeps her hair cropped blunt at the earlobes. She proclaims herself a romantic but seems desperately earthbound, a stickler for schedules. Jack tells her again and again how un-Greek this attitude is, but she is not a when-in-Rome type of tourist. ("Right then: three on the dot at the Oracle, tea time!" Marjorie, sizing up Delphi.)
She turns now and waves to her regiment, strutting through the maze of tables. Jack smiles fondly. "O gird up thy loins, ye salesmen of Minotaur tea towels!" The American girl laughs loudly, a laugh of unblemished joy.
When the war ended, when Paul shipped back to Dumfries from Verona, he found out, along with his mates, that half the girls they'd known in school had promised themselves to Americans–even, God forbid, to Canadians. Many were already married, awaiting their journey across the Atlantic with the restless thrill of birds preparing to migrate. Among them were some of the prettiest, cleverest, most accomplished and winning of the girls Paul remembered.
Maureen might have been one of those brides, if she'd chosen to be. But Maureen, pretty, outspoken, intrepid, knew what she wanted. She did not intend to wager away her future. "Those gals haven't a clue what they're in for, no sir. The man may be a prince, sure, but what's he hauling you home to? You haven't a clue, not a blistering clue." She said this to Paul when she hardly knew him. Paul admired her frankness–that and her curly pinkish blond hair, her muscular arms, her Adriatic eyes.
When Paul came back, he was depressed. Not because he missed the war; what idiot would? Not because he lacked direction, some sort of career; how thoroughly that was mapped out. Not even because he longed for a girl; for someone like Paul, there were plenty of prospects. He was sad because the war had not made him into what he had hoped it would–worse, he came to realize, what so many similar fools hoped it would. He supposed he could assume it had made him a man, whatever that meant, but it had not given him the dark, pitiless eye of an artist. All that posturing courage (all that aiming, killing, closing your eyes and haplessly pretending to kill but rarely knowing if you had); the simultaneous endurance and fear of death–the dying itself heard in keening rifts between gunfire or in continuous horrific pleadings–all those dire things, Paul had thought when he shipped out, might plant in him the indelible passion of a survivor, a taut inner coil like the workings of an heirloom watch. He had told this rubbish to no one and was grateful to himself for that much. Of the virtues his father preached, discretion began to seem the most rewarding: it kept people guessing and sometimes, by default, admiring.
Mornings he spent at the paper: proofing galleys, answering telephones, cataloguing local events. He learned the ropes as his father expected. But after a late lunch at the Globe, often alone, he might wander into the bar, lose all sense of time and obligation. At night he sat in a neglected room of his parents' large cold house and tried to write short stories. Paul was a good reporter–later he would win awards–but everything he tried to conjure from his heart sounded mealy and frail when he took it out to read in the morning.
The first year after the war was a time of modest anticipation. There was immense relief, drunken cheer, a stalwart sense of vindication. But the people he knew were careful not to voice grand expectations. When Paul stood back to consider the girls he courted, their dreams seemed to him self-consciously stunted; to be fair, so was his enthusiasm for courtship.
Maureen was not one of the girls from school. She worked at the Globe, sometimes as cook or barkeep, sometimes as a maid for the upstairs rooms. Always variety, she said. Always good company. Maureen flowered in the company of men. On nights she took the bar, she'd smoke, pour tall whiskeys, and hold her own on politics and farming. She told Paul without hesitation exactly what she thought of his father's editorial opinions. ("Ah, the specially elegant ignorance of gentlemen!" she crooned–a remark that made him smile for days.)
One winter night after dinner, when his sisters had a dance show turned up so loud that it made his work more discouraging than usual, Paul took his father's Humber and aimlessly cruised the town, stopping at last in the High Street.
The night crowd at the Globe was rural, more working class than the customers at lunch. Feeling sorry for himself, despising his unshakable sense of superiority, Paul drank too much and argued too sharply. He knew now that it was just a matter of time before he'd give it up: "the fiction of the fiction," he'd come to call it. At closing time he was the last man in the bar. He had no desire to face the cold, to be hit by the disappointment of no one's company but his own. He watched Maureen wipe the snifters, lock the till, polish the bar to a glassy sheen.
What People are Saying About This
"Julia Glass's talent just sends chills up my spine; her novel, Three Junes, is a marvel."
Richard Russo, author of Empire Falls
"Three Junes has the rich pleasures of a ninetenth-century novel and the rush of New York life of the last ten years. I'm amazed it's a first novelit is a mature, captivating work of fiction."
"Three Junes almost threatens to burst with all the life it contains. Glass' ability to locate the immense within the particular, and to simultaneously illuminate and deepen the mysteries of her characters' lives, would be marvelous in any novelist. In a first-time novelist, it's extraordinary."
Reading Group Guide
National Book Award Winner
“Enormously accomplished . . . rich, absorbing, and full of life.” —The New Yorker
The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group’s reading of Julia Glass’s Three Junes.
1. Julia Glass is also a painter. How do the style, structure, and descriptive passages of Three Junes reflect her artistic sensibility? How do the various segments, stories, and flashbacks work within the chronological text?
2. While traveling in Greece, Marjorie says she cannot stop “collecting worlds. . . . Different views, each representing a new window” [pp. 31–32]. How is the role of the traveler and observer like the role of the author?
3. Place figures crucially in the novel, whether it is a Greek island, a Scottish town, the West Village of New York City, or a Long Island town. What is the importance of each place and its role in the context of the entire novel? What are the symbolic differences between the countryside and the city? Where does Fenno belong?
4. The episodes in the first part, Paul’s vacation in Greece juxtaposed against the tale of his life in Scotland, come together to form a picture of his marriage with Maureen. Why does the author tell his tale in this fashion? Why is this part titled “Collies”?
5. Why does Paul, the steady shepherd of his family and newspaper, go to Greece first on vacation and then to live? Do you think he really wanted to “drop [his memories] like stones, one by one, in the sea” [p. 49]?
6. In the beginning, Fern reminds Paul of Maureen. Are the two alike or not? What are their similarities and differences? What does each want from life? How have Fern’s relationships affected her character and choices? Why hasn’t she told Stavros about her pregnancy? What is she afraid of?
7. Why doesn’t Fenno visit his father in Greece? What else has Fenno postponed doing or compromised for the sake of work or being upright? What consumes Fenno? What is the cause of the coolness between Fenno and his brother David? Is it rivalry? Do you think this coolness changes by the novel’s end? Which brother seems more admirable, and why?
8. What does the author accomplish by dividing the book into three parts with only the second as a first-person narrative? Why does she let Fenno tell his own story? What effect does this have on the reader? In addition, why does Fenno occasionally address the reader—for instance, when he says, “feeling left out, you will have noticed, is second nature to me” [p. 125]? Does this make us sympathetic to Fenno?
9. Part Two is titled “Upright.” Why? Is uprightness a positive or negative characteristic? Which characters are upright in the novel? Who is not?
10. What is the appeal of birds for Fenno and Mal? Fascinated by birds as an adolescent, Fenno covers the walls of his bookstore, named Plume, with bird prints. The dishes Mal breaks have birds on them. Felicity—Mal’s and then Fenno’s bird—is a vital character in the novel. Do birds and books have a special connection here?
11. What is the role of the mother in Three Junes? Has motherhood transformed or hindered Maureen? Do you think it will change Fern? How does Lucinda, the übermother, carry out her role? How about Véronique?
12. The novel teems with interconnected relationships. Describe some of them. Paul and Maureen—were they both satisfied in life? In marriage? Mal and Fenno—was their relationship ever fully actualized? Fenno and Tony—what kind of attraction did they share? Was it purely sexual? Tony and Fern—what brought them together? Fern and Stavros—will they stay together? Which is your favorite couple?
13. Tony’s job is “to take the very, very small and make it large. . . . Give stature to the details” [p. 277], which is also what the author does. Is Tony a compelling character in Three Junes? Is he simply a foil to Fenno and Fern? What is his purpose in the novel?
14. How does food—its smells, textures, and tastes—weave its way into all three parts of the novel? Why does the author vividly spell out the menus and recipes for us at all the critical meals? Which dishes are the most memorable?
15. What are the various views of death presented in Three Junes? How does the author view death? How do the characters in the novel accept or come to terms with death?
16. Anna explains to Fern, “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” [p. 286]. Glass ends her novel echoing this quote. Why? What do Anna’s words signify?
A Conversation with Julia Glass, author of Three Junes
Q: What led you to create Three Junes?
A: Sometimes it's hard for me to think of this novel as something I created, because I never sat down and planned it out as a whole, the way you might cut and piece together a suit from a bolt of cloth (as I'd always imagined a novel gets written). Three Junes grew over several years, like a tree—organically and at first in odd, sporadic bursts—starting out as a short story called "Souvenirs," which was based on an experience I had while traveling in Greece after college. One of the first stories I wrote as an adult, it was your typical ingenue-abroad, loss-of-innocence tale with a predictably idyllic setting, and I was hoping to sell it to Cosmopolitan magazine, where I was working as a copy editor. (In those days, short stories—some by wonderful writers like Laurie Colwin, Lorrie Moore, and Elinor Lipman—were a fixture of the magazine. Often, there were two in a single issue, just as there once were in the New Yorker.) Reportedly, Helen Gurley Brown read my story but thought the heroine too "privileged" for her readers—that is, not your good old "mouseburger" COSMO Girl—so into a drawer it went. A few years later, I looked at the story again and decided that Paul, who had been little more than a third wheel or a foil, was much more interesting than Fern or Jack, and I decided to make the story his, not Fern's. Suddenly, this character's whole world seemed to crack open before my eyes—his dead wife, his waylaid ambitions, his country home,his sons—and I found myself with an ungainly narrative of 40 pages plus. I actually had the nerve to submit it to a couple of magazines and received a brief but kind rejection from the Atlantic the gist of which was "Sorry, though we'd love to see these characters inhabit a novel." Once again, into a drawer it went.
Somehow, though, what was now called "Collies" refused to be abandoned, and a couple years later, two things happened: First, I was intrigued by a fiction competition that included a category for "best novella" and decided to amplify the story yet further. Second, having by now published a couple of stories in modest venues, I'd been contacted by two agents who wondered if I had a novel. Somewhat stubbornly, I was writing only stories—you couldn't really call them "short," since they were lengthy and complex, bursting at the seams like pregnant women refusing to buy maternity clothes—and when I wrote to a fellow writer how unfair it felt that these agents wouldn't consider story collections, he wrote back something like "Stop complaining, get off your duff, and just write a novel. If you want to, you can." I was momentarily hurt, but I knew he was right. Sometimes I wonder if I would ever have written Three Junes without that kick in the pants.
Q: One of your characters states, “Everyone with a mouth and a memory has stories” (p. 39). But not everyone can write.… Were there stories in your own life, from your own memory, that inspired this book?
A: It is something of a constant surprise to me that Three Junes is almost wholly invented rather than autobiographical that is, in its plot lines since much of the short fiction I've written is based on events in my life or things I imagine about people I’ve met. It does draw extensively, however, on my general experience. Like Fern, I live in the West Village, and I spent a year in Paris on a grant to pursue my work as a painter, but I have never been widowed, the father of my children is nothing like Stavros, and I have certainly never been in a social situation like that weekend Fern spends on Long Island. Likewise, Scotland is a vivid, significant place to me, although I have visited the country only briefly, a few times in the ‘70s and ‘80s. My mother is quite proud of her Scottish roots and, through her genealogical research, made contact with relations there; I was sent over at age 17 as a sort of ambassador, and our families have stayed in touch ever since. While the McLeods are in no way based on my overseas cousins, I think that making Paul a Scotsman was an unconscious expression of my respect for family connections and traditions. Nothing in life fascinates or moves me more than families; no dramas are more compelling to me than the domestic.
The weaving of animals throughout the narrative is also a reflection of my experience, since I was brought up around dogs, horses, cats, and itinerant wildlife. Nor did I escape the influence of animals by moving to New York City; I ended up writing a magazine column on pets (my first published writing), and more than 10 years ago I volunteered for an organization that helps people with AIDS take care of their animals (often their closest companions). My job was to make “foster care” arrangements for dogs, so that if one of our clients had to go into the hospital without notice, someone would be ready and willing to take in his dog until he was discharged (or until, if he died, we were able to find someone to adopt it). Something that happened to me while doing that work stands like a shadow behind the seminal event at the core of the novel: the gift of a parrot to Fenno McLeod. When I went to interview one man about his dog, he told me he also had a parakeet but had just been told by his doctor that he had to give it up because of risks to his health. At the time, my sister was a vet up in Boston with a special interest in birds, and she found the parakeet a new home. When I went to pick the bird up from the owner, he looked significantly weaker than he had just two weeks before. He was in his pajamas, drinking tea from a delicate gilt-edged cup and saucer. As he sat there, looking so unbearably frail, drinking from that elegant cup, I had a heartbreaking glimpse of the life that was slipping away from him. While AIDS has spread horrifically on a worldwide basis, here in New York those years—the late '80s and early '90s—were the worst, the most hopeless, and I have never forgotten the contact I had, brief though it often was, with so many men who were fighting off death and in most cases losing.
Q: Anna explains to Fern, “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” (p. 298). Do you think you always intended to be a writer?
A: Yes and no. If you were to look in the book my mother kept about my childhood, you would see that I had yet to start school when I declared my intention to grow up and become “an author or an artist.” I was crazy for books—not surprising, since my father was working on his dissertation in pre-Columbian archaeology. Some of my first and sharpest memories are of the look and feel of the arcane, oddly illustrated volumes that filled the shelves in his study. But I also loved to make pictures, and through my school years I remained blithely faithful to both passions.
In high school, I wrote stories, poems, papers, journals, all with intense pleasure—but strangely, I think I began to take my writing ability for granted, perhaps because there were so many other flourishing student writers (many of whom are also professional writers today). When I went to college, I found myself more stimulated by my visual arts courses than my courses that involved writing. Meanwhile, I'm a little ashamed to say, I felt challenged by the macho, almost confrontational teaching style that seemed to have prevailed in that department from the days before coeducation. I thrived in this men-from-the-boys atmosphere, and in my final year, I was a scholar of the house in art: I had a private studio and worked only on my painting, rather than taking courses. The following year, I was awarded a fellowship to spend a year working on my own in Europe. Except for letters, writing was no longer a part of my life—and it took several years for me to miss it.
In my mid-twenties, like so many other fledgling artists, I moved to New York. For several years I lived alone (with a pet rabbit) and led a pretty austere life, working as a copy editor by day and painting by night. I was in a number of group shows but did not care much for the art “scene,” which was highly theatrical; how you looked and the society you kept seemed as important as the work you did. I read voraciously, as I always have, but my reading began to leave me with a kind of thirst. I realized that I was yearning to compose with words as much as with paint. Absurdly, I began to “sneak” time away from my artwork to write stories (I had not written fiction since high school). The problem was, I knew that having to make a living did not allow me the time to pursue both painting and fiction in a serious way. I decided to give myself over to writing for a while, and though it was a struggle, it felt like coming home. In the years since, I have painted off and on, but what I came to realize is that while I do have visual gifts—which, not incidentally, serve me well as a writer—I am at heart a verbal person, someone whose favorite toys are words. For me, making art is like speaking a foreign language fluently, but writing, language itself, is my native tongue, the one I know without even knowing how.
Q: Three Junes, teeming with its relationships and interconnected lives, resembles a wonderfully dense nineteenth-century novel in a way, despite its very modern characters and setting. Do you agree?
A: I am anything but a minimalist, and I don't say this proudly, because if my work—visual as well as verbal—has one prominent weakness, it's a tendency toward clutter. (I also have a tendency to talk too much and, I'm told by the one adult who lives with me, to fill a room with too many objects and too much pattern.) When it works, however—when it's disciplined—the clutter can yield a magnificent richness, and that's what I aspire to. If this makes me a Victorian of sorts, so be it.
I wouldn't flatter Three Junes by comparing it with anything by Hardy or Eliot or Hawthorne, but they are all personal gods, so clearly I have such ambitions. In the years after college, when I had ample time to read whatever I wanted, I undertook to fill some of my literary gaps by going on reading binges of certain authors: E.M. Forster, Jane Austen, and George Eliot among them. One book I read then that impressed me above and beyond most of what I'd ever read—and it may have been partially responsible for my starting to write fiction—was Daniel Deronda. While I understand the criticism of its flaws, I was astonished by its characters and structure (not to mention its exquisite, masterly prose). Just the idea that you do not meet one of the two protagonists for over a hundred pages seemed revolutionary, and though I didn't write Three Junes till many years later, I know that its ultimate structure was in some ways influenced by that impression. I'm not sure I could have risked what I did with Fenno's character—making him the center of the novel yet keeping him largely offstage for most of the beginning and much of the end—without that example.
Q: Why did you divide the book into three parts with only the second as a first-person narrative? Why did you choose Fenno to set apart? In addition, why does Fenno occasionally address the reader, "Feeling left out, you will have noticed, is second nature to me" (p. 125)?
A: I mentioned earlier how essential character is to me in the creation of story; well, Fenno is a character who basically hijacked my soul as a writer. He's the one who chose me. Working on Three Junes, I had an experience I'd never had before. In the past, my characters were largely composed in a deliberate manner—under my thumb, you might say—although they often seemed to make spontaneous choices that would surprise me. But Fenno (also Mal, and to some extent Paul) seemed to spring up from my psyche fully formed, like the goddess Athena from her father's head. Writing in Fenno's voice often felt like conversing with a stowaway, continuing the journey and letting go of anxieties about where in the world he came from.
One of the timeworn dictums laid down for first novelists is "Whatever you do, steer clear of the first person!" "Collies" had always felt completely natural in the third person, even though it was limited to Paul's point of view, but when I started the second part of the novel, Fenno's story, I couldn't help hearing it in his own voice—and I was petrified. I knew I was embarking on the longest portion of the book and I thought, I can't do this! Change time period, locale, point of view, and voice? Surely a big mistake. So I did try to work on the story in third person, and I lasted only a few pages. It felt like trying to bend steel pipe.
While writing "Boys," the third part, it hit me that what I was writing, structurally, was a triptych—that is, a strong central image flanked by two narrower, more modest images. I thought of the medieval Netherlandish altarpieces I love so much: Sometimes the central panel—be it a picture of the annunciation, the crucificion, or a martyrdom—is flanked by panels depicting portraits of the altarpiece donors (often husband and wife, male and female). While the central image is frontal, the donors are often shown in profile. And suddenly I had this very clear picture of Three Junes. Here was Fenno's large, rich story at the center, told directly to the reader, with Paul and Fern portrayed in intimate detail to left and right but seen from the side and that's what third person is: a kind of narrative profile view. From then on, Fern's story flowed easily in the third person, mirroring Paul's.
Q: Places figure crucially in the novel—for instance, a Greek island, a Scottish village, Greenwich Village, and a Long Island town. Are these places significant?
A: Certainly, all these places are places to which I've traveled (Paros and Dumfries, for example) or know intimately, as I do the Greenwich Village, my neighborhood for the past ten years. But beyond that, virtually all the locales of Three Junes, even Fern's hometown, which figures only fleetingly, share an ideal quality. They are places popular with tourists or people escaping their everyday life. I made that choice intentionally, though it entailed certain risks, the first, quite simply, that places of such celebrity may upstage characters and events; the second, that they will make the story seem superficial or glib, like the escapist fiction you buy at the airport to distract yourself from the boredom and anxiety of flying. What I wanted, however, was to make place underscore the deep, nearly insatiable longing felt by the three major characters. Almost all these places are, in real life, places where we hope to receive some kind of sublime, intangible gift, be it beauty or peace or romance, and we often (though not always) come away unsatisfied. Greece, for instance—as the characters themselves acknowledge—is a place utterly steeped in the past. We go there as tourists to wander through ruins and marvel at the eerieness of time and mortality; perhaps we want the Oracle to make sense of our human lives. When he goes to Greece, Paul is torn between wanting to remain in his perfectly ordered past and to somehow get free of its grasp. He does receive a gift, but it's not the one he expected. Scotland, as I mentioned before, brings to mind tradition and family loyalty (think of the clans and the tartans), but by the same token it is a place where acts of great barbarity and betrayal took place, where the land has been as tough and unyielding as it is beautiful. That, of course, is the duplicitous landscape of family itself: love and betrayal, war and peace. Paris, of course, represents true, everlasting love, while Amagansett is a place where we imagine people living perfect lives in perfect privacy…. And then there's June, the perfect month: the month of blossoming, of weddings and conceptions, of—since our childhood—being freed from obligations.
Q: What is next for Julia Glass?
A: Before I was properly scolded into writing a novel, I was working exclusively on a series of stories about the lives of two very different sisters and their relationship as adults; I assumed that if I was lucky enough to publish a book, this would be it. I saw myself as concentrating on a specific though intense aspect of family—siblingship—and working my way up to writing a larger something (I hardly dared think “novel”) with a broader view of family. Well, now I’ve sort of done it backwards. But of course, there are endless variations on the theme, and I have continued to work on those stories. A few of them have won prizes and been published. I’ve also recently started a new novel about marriage, fidelity, and the drive to make other people happy. It’s called A Piece of Cake, and the main character is a pastry chef, a woman named Greenie Duquette. Unlike most protagonists I’ve created before, Greenie is happy—happy not just in her work but by nature. And she is a mother, also a new kind of heroine for me—motherhood being a relatively new experience in my life. My five-year-old was born not long before I conceived Three Junes, my one-year-old the week before my agent sold it.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Not since Madeline McCarthy in The Way the Crow Flies have I fallen so completely in love with a character. I want Fenno McCleod, so beautifully shown and not told by Julia Glass, in my life. I was intrigued though slightly put off by Paul, the patriarch, but Fenno drew me in and taught me lessons I still needed to learn: Family dynamics, the wounded children we still are even when we are grown, and the ultimate realization that, as Fenno says, we don't have to be understood to be loved. I hope Julia Glass has another novel in her because this one is now on my list of favorites.
This book is probably in the Top 10 reading experiences of my whole life. This is a deceptively simple book, which could be dismissed by those who claim that 'nothing ever happens' in it. In fact, momentous things happen in THREE JUNES; but they're internal things that happen in the minds of its central characters. Ms. Glass knows her characters the way every novelist should but few probably do -- after reading this book, I feel as though I know them as well (I even like most of them). This book teaches life lessons without preaching or hitting the reader over the head with didacticism; perhaps the reason I'm so over the moon about THREE JUNES is because it taught me things that I desperately needed to learn as I read the book, and taught them to me in a way that I could let the lessons in. This is a beautiful book. Obviously, it's not for everyone -- but if you're already considering it, I would highly recommend it.
I struggled to finish this book. Though the descriptions of places and things were good, the transitions were jarring when floating from past to present and back again. I never really understood why or how they were connected besides it was a memory to give the backstory. The first story was the best. The second story of the older brother (Fenno) was the longest and I felt the same for him when I started and when it was over - nothing. The synopsis said this book was about, "a Scottish family as they confront the joys and longings, fulfillments, and betrayals of love in all its guises." I certainly didn't see a long of joy, longing, or fulfillment in this book. It was mostly depressing and very unsatisfying.
I was surprised to see such disparity among the reviews posted here. For me, Three Junes is a beautifully written book that meshes form and content. It evoked a feeling of wistulness -- I wanted to know the characters better, learn more of their story. But isn't that what Fenno wants as well? Doesn't he gather his insight from external sources and clues rather than from the characters themselves? Memory and memorial, I treasured this book yet longed for more.
This is definitely one of those love it or hate it books. I couldn't get past the first 5 chapters. I was hoping it would get better, and that if I just kept reading, I'd get hooked. I was wrong! It seems many people enjoyed this read, but it just wasn't for me. This is one of those rare books that I wasn't able to will myself to finish.
Took me a while to finish this book because I just couldnt find any real plot. The book came in and out of different peoples lives with no clear purpose. Overall not a horrible book, but definitly did'nt keep me looking forward to picking it up each night.
This book was slow and hard to commit to. One of the narrators, Fenno, is a fussy, grumpy, uptight Scot who really grated on my nerves. I couldn't find anything too likable about him, until the end of the story when his character shows some growth, or maybe I just got to see him in a different light and that made the difference. I loved that readers learn of characters' misinterpretations of other characters' lives, but the characters themselves don't ever find out the truth, no matter how badly we might want them to. It would be tempting, I think, as the author to spell it all out, but Glass doesn't, and I appreciated this realism.In the end, I think this is a complex novel, beautifully written, but it just didn't come together quite right for me.
In the manner of movies like "Babel" and "Crash", novels like "Let the Great World Spin" and "Beautiful Children", but I found the opening--the father's story on a tour of Greece--felt like an editor's suggested add-on. And the closing section tried to tie up too many things--and, though relatively short, added a number of new characters. The centre--the relationship between two gay men and the family around both--was enough, probably, although Colm Toibin did it better in "Blackwater Lightship".
I thought the "Junes" were girls' names but the "Junes" are months set apart by several years. Each June section relates the events in the lives of a Scottish family. There are frequent flashbacks as we gradually learn about the marriage and deaths of the parents. He is an editor and owner of a small newspaper and she is a dog breeder who seems to care more about her dogs than her sons. The lives and loves of the three sons are explored. The oldest son owns a bookstore in New York and struggles with is homosexuality and, the other two are twins one of whom is a vet whose wife is unable to get pregnant, and the other is a chef whose French wife has produced 3 girls. This is a beautiful and lyrical novel.
This story is told through the perspective of a man and later, his son. It tells the story of love, being understood and learning to live without regret. I just have to ask though, do all love stories involving gay men have to be doomed, sad and decoratively tasteful? The book opens in June (of course) and is written from the perspective of Paul, a widower on a cruise. He is trying to branch out a bit, but he typically hates these kinds of things. He is looking back on his life a bit and develops a crush on a young woman on the boat. The wife and mother in this story raised Collies in Scotland and probably had an affair with the neighbor. She wore bright red lipstick and an irreverent attitude. She was Catherine Hepburn in my mind. She had three sons and the book takes the perspective of her oldest son as the book moves on to the second June. Both parents have died at this point and Fenno, the oldest son, moves the narrative back and forth between the present and his past in Manhattan. He has a strong friendship with Mal, a witty Opera critic who is dying of AIDS with dignity and stifled rage. Fenno has an affair with Tony, but they never bring this relationship into the light. They never develop beyond the secret sex. The last June is told from the perspective of Fern - a young woman on vacation in the Hamptons with Tony. Here we learn that Fern is Paul's crush from the cruise. Fenno shows up with one of his brothers and the story ties up here.All the images presented in this story were beautiful - colorful bookstores and doting mothers, just to name a couple. Love and sex didn't live comfortably though.
Sensitive observations of the lives of three people, a father, his eldest son and a woman they've both met and instantly liked. I enjoyed the novel very much and found the characters believable and well-defined.It shouldn't have bothered me, but the American spellings in the father's section did seem a bit out of place, given that he's supposed to be a Scot. Silly, I know, but as the author did make deliberate attempts to use British words for things ('loo' appears rather a lot, for example), it seemed a bit jarring.
This triptych of novellas contains an interesting approach to character development. The use of the same basic core of characters seen from the different points of view of our three narrators definitely adds to the overall story. However, I found the central story "Upright" to ultimately be the strongest of the three, so the addition of "Collies" and "Boys" in some ways almost seemed to distract from the central story. Regardless, this debut effort of Glass's still stands head and shoulders above her sophomore effort - The Whole World Over.
I spent a couple of years thinking this book was about three women named June! In fact, it's about three distinct summers in the lives of a Scottish family and the people they love (or don't). The first section is about the family patriarch, Paul McLeod, who is vacationing in Greece upon the death of his wife, and reflecting on his imperfect marriage. The second section, the emotional heart of the book, concerns Paul's son Fenno, a reserved, even stodgy gay man who has emigrated to New York where he befriends a music critic dying of AIDS. The final section is about Fern (we also meet her in part one) who is coping with the ambiguous death of her husband and the discovery that she is pregnant with her new lover's child.Glass has created likeable, flawed, sometimes infuriating characters. I especially enjoyed her depiction of the McLeod family dynamics. I seem to read about a lot of women, and it was interesting reading about brothers.Oh, I didn't actually read this book; I listened to the unabridged audiobook narrated by John Keating. I'm not usually fussy about narrators, but Keating was hard to listen to. His American accents were just plain bad. He made all the American men sound like whiny queens. OK, a lot of the American characters are gay, but I hope we all know that not all gay men sound like whiny queens! Also, he seemed to slow down when "talking American," as if he needed all his concentration to pull it off. But how many New Yorkers are agonizingly slow talkers? I didn't much care for the third section of the book, but I wonder how much was because this section was full of Americans with their slow whiny accents.
Three separate yet very much related stories. The first is told from the perspective of an aging and recently widowed man who's embarked on travels to nominally leave his past behind. The second story begins after the man's death and is told from the perspective of his eldest -- and gay -- son. This story is told with the most depth and feeling of the three. The third story ends up weaving the three together in a somewhat surprising way, although it was a mildly disappointing way to close the book after having developed the middle part so well.
this book was fantastic i personally love the character potrayed by Mal .he had this aura about which had an impact on my life....ganerally the book was amazing ,the ending was a bit confusing but you managed to figure it out after a couple more trys ...Te McLeods were an intresting but lovable familly that is ironically similar to mine
The book revolves around a Scottish family, the McLeods. The books starts out in June of 1989 with Paul McLeod, recently widowed, taking a vacation in Greece. There are flashbacks to his past life with his wife, how they met, and raising their three sons.Six years later, it's June again and Paul McLeod has just passed away. The three sons are gathered together with their wives and families in Scotland to pay homage to their father. This section is narrated by Fenno, the eldest son who is an expat and gay man living in New York City. It's during this period that Fenno starts to unravel some of their family history and family relationships are tested. He also flashes back to his past in New York and to his relationship with a gay man who is dying of AIDS.Four years later, the story is narrated by...well, I won't tell you the last narrator.So why did I like it so much? The plot of the story is pretty odd. Is there really a plot? It's really all about the characters. The story sucks you in by having Paul McLeod narrate. And you really like him. And this first part is short and then he dies. So you're already invested in the story. The second section is the longest section, narrated by Fenno, and I just fell for that character. I mean, while reading this section I loved to take the book for coffee, sit down, and just savor the book.When I finished the book I was so disappointed. Not disappointed in the ending, but sad that it ended at all. It took me awhile to read this book. I didn't rush through it, I didn't check on what book was waiting in my TBR que, I just sat and drank coffee and savored it.
This is my ¿I wish I hadn¿t waited four years after buying this to read it¿ book of the year. Lovely voice, wonderful characters that make your insides ache for them, painstakingly well plotted. The split into three parts with three different narrators was incredibly effective, and there was a subtle beauty to the intertwined families and individual stories. The narrative structure is so good I can¿t fathom the fact that this is a debut novel. Read slowly and savor it.
Hmmm---I have to give this an "okay" listening experience. After all, I did keep listening, wondering where we were going next. I didn't really "fall in love" with any of the characters---it was interesting to see how the lives overlapped but I think I could have stopped anywhere and not missed much when I picked the story up somewhere else. Lots of people have read this and apparently loved it so I'm wondering what I didn't understand or what I was missing.
This is more three related stories--a short novel flanked by two novellas--than an integrated novel. They're united by being set in three June months and one character appears in all three stories--Fenno MacLeod. He's a supporting player in the bookend third-person stories and the first person narrator in the central section. I loved all three stories but for some reason this book misses being a favorite--maybe because I wished the three stories were closer entwined rather than feeling I was reading three separate stories. This isn't a plot-driven novel with all loose ends nicely tied. The three do have a kind of momentum and closure, growing lighter in feel as you go along. The first section centers around Paul, Fenno's father, a Scot and recently widowed vacationing in Greece, told in present tense but with flashbacks in past tense dealing with his wife and family. That story has a melancholy feel, but it certainly made me care about Paul, which made it wrenching when we leave him in the middle section. That section is centered on his son Fenno. He's returned to his childhood home to deal with a family tragedy. Interwoven with the familial drama in Scotland is the story of his life as a gay man dealing with the AIDs epidemic in New York City. It felt an even bigger wrench when we leave him for Fern's point of view in the third section and a summer day in Long Island. Fern is one of the characters in that first section in Greece, and at first her presence in the third part of the book, let alone at the center, felt jarring. She only comes into the narrative through a mutual acquaintance of Fenno and that coincidence bothered me. Especially since in the beginning it seemed we might not intersect with Fenno at all. They do, and in a way that seemed rather a nice grace note to the central story, but it still left me a bit dissatisfied because of the loose way it related to the MacLeod family we'd been centered on. And while Paul can certainly be said to have an effect on Fenno (and Fern did make an impression on him), the MacLeod's hadn't affected Fern. Which is why I'm deducting a star, even if I think if this had been presented as three connected stories rather than a novel I might not feel that way. Each story on its own terms was affecting and well told.I will say this though. The writing was truly lovely and lyrical. The kind you savor, that pulls you into the story and has descriptions that makes you see the story unspooling like a film before your eyes. Which makes me recognize my own New York City and makes me feel as if I've visited Scotland and Greece.
I actually liked this book, even though in the end I felt a bit of frustration.Overall felt a little disjointed, lots of different threads - could have used some editing.But then again, it's disjointed to the level where it feels as if intended by the author to leave the reader hanging.
Wonderful. Almost a five-star rating except that I just didn't connect well with the narrator in the third part.Don't let any blurbs or synopses put you off. I expected to find the whole Greece-Scotland-New York thing contrived, but it works. Also feared that it might end in a *too* neat little resolution at the end, but Glass wisely avoided the lure of the tidy.
Three bittersweet, satisfying novellas combine to form a portrait of a complex family, and their struggles with love, and relationship.
This is a dazzling first novel. I look forward to more from Ms. Glass. Essentially, the story is an examination of the lives and loves of a family, the McCleods, over a decade (1989-1999). Fenno, the viewpoint character for the second section, and arguably the key character in the book,, is fascinatingly complex and insightfully drawn. This book is not, as another reviewer has observed, about events; it is about characters. The storyline is very lightly drawn and the tale simply unfolds naturally with the actions and decisions of the characters. I loved it and found it almost compellingly readable. If tidiness in plotting is an issue with you, take warning. There are a number of items left unresolved at the end of the book. Some of them are made to seem potentially important as the book evolves and then are simply abandoned. Perhaps there is some symbolism here that simply escaped me. The story seems too well crafted for carelessness but the reader is left wondering what they ultimately decided to do with Dad's ashes, who the World Wad II medals found in the vase really belonged to and whether Marjorie ever sent those letters to Fenno. A bit frustrating but bearable.
A wonderful, carefully written story of family, loyalty and understanding. Over three different Junes (the month - perhaps each a decade apart?) we learn about the father¿s coming to terms with his wife¿s death and his new-found freedom; one son¿s conservative, sort of calculated, protected life in New York where he deals with his homosexuality and his feelings of not belonging to the family; and a family reunion for the father¿s funeral where all the disparate family members gather and share bits of their own issues. Most of the ladies loved the book even though I was worried that it might be too literary for them.
I enjoyed this book.It was funny though, I am usually a pretty fast reader and this book took me longer to get through than I would have expected. I think it is particularly dense - the type of book that you need to take a little slower than expected.It was a melancholy read - not much levity among much sadness. Death, loss and grief are major themes and plot points. Well written - very engrossing -