Three Junes by Julia Glass (2002)

I had the “wrong” introduction to Julia Glass’s work in that I started with The Whole World Over (2006) in January 2019 instead of the novel to which it is a rough sequel: her National Book Award-winning debut, Three Junes. This wasn’t really a problem, though. The main link between the two is the character Fenno, a Scottish transplant to New York City who runs a bookstore. He narrates the central and longest section of Three Junes, while the shorter bookend chapters are in the third person. All three pieces braid past and present together such that the novel’s 10-year span feels even more expansive.

“Collies,” set in 1989, opens the book on Greece, where Paul McLeod has headed for a package holiday after the death from cancer of his wife, Maureen, who was an obsessive dog trainer. In “Upright,” which moves six years into the future, Paul’s son Fenno and his younger twin brothers, David and Dennis, are at the family home in Dumfries to divvy up the estate. Fenno’s mind drifts back through his time in New York City and particularly the lovers and friends of his life, some of whom died at the height of the AIDS crisis. In the present day, he faces a dilemma when his brother and sister-in-law ask him an intimate favor.

“Boys,” dated 1999, closes the book and centers on Fern, a young widow who is visiting a friend’s beach home in Long Island and contemplating how she will tell her new boyfriend (who happens to be her landlord’s son) that she is five months pregnant. This final chapter ropes in a few characters from previous sections – but, in a frustrating yet delicious instance of dramatic irony, the two main figures don’t realize there’s a couple of connections between them.

Many of the elements that I loved in The Whole World Over were present here, too: a New York City bookstore setting, the comfort of animals (David is a vet), gourmet meals (Dennis is a chef), and a matter-of-fact but tender consideration of loss. A minor character declares, “people overestimate the power of the past,” but this tripartite narrative puts the lie to that statement as the past continues to seep into everyday life. And the last line goes on my list of favourites encountered so far this year: “Here we are—despite the delays, the confusion, and the shadows en route—at last, or for the moment, where we always intended to be.”

I didn’t particularly warm to the first chapter and worried that this boded ill for the whole book, but as soon as Fenno’s voice took over at about page 60 I sank into the inviting prose. After my first taste of her work, I likened Glass to Louise Miller and Carolyn Parkhurst; now I’d add in Elizabeths Berg and Strout. I’ll read the rest of her books for sure. I have a paperback copy of I See You Everywhere and her latest, A House among the Trees, is on my Kindle.

 

Source: Secondhand purchase from Wonder Book and Video outdoor clearance area

My rating:

9 responses

  1. I still have a copy of this on my shelves. Given the jostling for space, that’s a tribute to how much I enjoyed it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Her books have earned a spot on my “keep” shelf as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have a couple of her books in the 746, which I don’t really remember buying. I’ve not known what to expect but this certainly sounds good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really enjoyed these two of hers. They’re full of substance but also very readable, and warmly written.

      Like

  3. I loved this one and The Whole World Over when I read them. It’s been a long time. I think they’re worth a re-read!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. A charming pair of books. I’m looking forward to reading more of her stuff.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. buriedinprint | Reply

    Phew, I’m so glad you enjoyed this one well enough; I was afraid you’d find it too slight compared to the weightier (not that they’re very hefty either) stories she went on to write. Her stories are dense with detail, in a way that doesn’t feel Strout-ish to me, but I do agree that there’s a sensibility shared between them somehow. Maybe just, simply, kindness?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. She perfectly blends literary fiction and readable/book club standard women’s fiction, in the same way that Sue Miller and Maggie O’Farrell do. Such authors can be underestimated, but I think it takes real skill.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. […] wrong. Grief, memory, fate: some of my favourite themes, elegantly treated. This reminded me of Three Junes and also, to a lesser extent, The Heart’s Invisible Furies. (Public […]

    Liked by 1 person

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