Three Junes by Julia Glass
It is not often that I re-read a novel without realizing that I am doing so. I must have read this book in such a rush at some point in the past that I had forgotten that I had read it at all. A good friend has told me a number of times that it is one of her favourite novels – so I read it (again) recently. As I read I kept saying to myself, “I’ve read this book before.” But, I carried on as I could not always remember what came next – it was a very strange experience.
When I finished the book I had such mixed feelings about it that I checked the Internet for other reviews. This book did, after all, receive the National Book Award in the United States and there was a lot I really liked about it – and some I didn’t. It is a first novel, so I think there is much to be forgiven, and the story and the characters were interesting enough to keep me reading, even for a second time.
Beginning in 1995 we meet Paul, recently widowed, on a holiday in Greece. We then meet him at home again in Scotland and read about his marriage and his children. The novel then moves to New York City – pre 9/11. New York is the home of Paul’s eldest son, Fenno. Fenno is a gay man who owns a bookshop, established by someone else. He is, in many ways, simply passing through his life – not truly living it. Fenno returns to Scotland to see his family a couple of times a year, they know he is homosexual, although it is never mentioned. I have to say that there are some descriptive sexual passages in this book that are uncomfortable – perhaps because it is homosexual sex, but perhaps only because it is sex. I generally prefer novels where the sex stays under the covers. But, I liked Fenno very much, and it is the character of Fenno that makes this novel worth reading.
When Julia Glass was asked how she came to write about Fenno and the gay world, she describes picking up a bird for her sister, a veterinarian. “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.”
This is not, however, simply a novel with gay content set in New York City. It is the story of a family, people who love each other, who may have conflicts and jealousies, but are family. It is a few weeks now since I finished reading this book and I still think about the people I met in these pages and wish I knew more. What has happened since I closed the covers – that’s one of the things that makes a book work – this one was a very “good read.”