Sunday, February 26, 2006

Book Notes: "Three Junes" by Julia Glass

A bit longer than it needs to be (especially the extraneous third, bookend piece) but overall an enjoyable exploration of two generations of a Scottish family and the lives they touch along the way.

The novel is divided into three sections that mimic, in Glass' own words, a "triptych" where you have a main panel flanked on either side by smaller supporting panels. The main panel depicts a scene where the characters face directly towards the viewer while the side panels' figures generally face toward the center panel.

The primary character, Fenno, offers a first-person narration through the main panel of Glass' literary triptych. Fenno is an engaging enough and interesting enough figure to hold our interest, but his section is a bit elongated. Though I personally don't necessarily have that much in common with Fenno, I felt that this character in his mid- to late-twenties was a known quantity to myself and my peers. This immediately establishes believability, but also works against the novel for me. The easiest way to explain it is that I spend enough time with myself and my friends. I don't necessarily need to spend time with another late twenty-something-year-old. However for those more removed from my age and type of social circles Fenno is no doubt much more interesting.

Fenno's evolution is entirely earned and entirely believable. This is worth the read and is often quite beautifully told. Glass is not the prosaic master that Jhumpa Lahiri is, but she's quite strong in her own right. Certainly very confident and in control of her narrative.

The closing third section, though it completes the triptych pattern, is completely unnecessary. Fenno is our primary concern and his main panel concludes in excellent fashion with nothing left needed to be said. The final panel is appealing but ultimately extraneous because Fenno's primary journey has already been concluded.

"Three Junes" is a patient read. It's worth the time but it does take more endurance than other quicker reads.


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