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 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.
Keith Donohue has been praised for his vivid imagination and for evoking “the otherworldly with humor and the ordinary with wonder” (Audrey Niffenegger). 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.
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.
Excerpted from Centuries of June by Keith Donohue. Copyright © 2011 by Keith Donohue. Excerpted by permission of Broadway Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing 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