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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Three Junes is a vividly textured symphonic novel set on both sides of the Atlantic during three fateful summers in the lives of a Scottish family. In June of 1989, Paul McLeod, the recently widowed patriarch, becomes infatuated with a young American artist while traveling through Greece and is compelled to relive the secret
sorrows of his marriage. Six years later, Paul’s death reunites his sons at Tealing, their idyllic childhood home, where Fenno, the eldest, faces a choice that puts him at the center of his family’s future. A lovable, slightly repressed gay man, Fenno leads the life of an aloof expatriate in the West Village, running a shop filled with books and birdwatching gear. He believes himself safe from all emotional entanglements—until a worldly neighbor presents him with an extraordinary gift and a seductive photographer makes him an unwitting subject. Each man draws Fenno into territories of the heart he has never braved before, leading him toward an almost unbearable loss that will reveal to him the nature of love.

Love in its limitless forms—between husband and wife, between lovers, between people and animals, between parents and children—is the force that moves these characters’ lives, which collide again, in yet another June, over a Long Island dinner table. This time it is Fenno who meets and captivates Fern, the same woman who captivated his father in Greece ten years before. Now pregnant with a son of her own, Fern, like Fenno and Paul before him, must make peace with her past to embrace her future. Elegantly detailed yet full of emotional suspense, often as comic as it is sad, Three Junes is a glorious triptych about how we learn to live, and live fully, beyond incurable grief and betrayals of the heart—how family ties, both those we’re born into and those we make, can offer us redemption and joy.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

Chapter 1

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."

"Whacks them?"

"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 the caf? 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.


From the Hardcover edition.
Julia Glass|Author Q&A

About Julia Glass

Julia Glass - Three Junes

Photo © Dennis Cowley

Julia Glass is the author of Three Junes, winner of the 2002 National Book Award for Fiction; The Whole World Over; I See You Everywhere, winner of the 2009 Binghamton University John Gardner Book Award; and The Widower’s Tale. Her essays have been widely anthologized. 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 also teaches fiction writing, most frequently at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. She lives with her family in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

Author Q&A

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.

Praise | Awards

Praise

“Enormously accomplished….rich, absorbing, and full of life.” -The New Yorker

“A warm, wise debut. . . . Three Junes marks a blessed event for readers of literary fiction everywhere.”–San Francisco Chronicle

“Julia Glass’s talent sends chills up my spine; Three Junes is a marvel.”–Richard Russo, author of Empire Falls

Three Junes almost threatens to burst with all the life it contains. Glass’s ability to illuminate and deepen the mysteries of her characters’ lives is extraordinary.” – Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours

“‘Three Junes’ brilliantly rescues, then refurbishes, the traditional plot-driven novel. . . Glass has written a generous book about family expectations–but also about happiness.” – The New York Times Book Review

“Gorgeous. . .‘Three Junes’ goes after the big issues without a trace of fustiness and gives us a memorable hero.” – Los Angeles Times Book Review

“’Three Junes’ is a novel that bursts with the lives of its characters. They move into our hearts, taking up permanent residence, the newest members of the reader’s family of choice.”–Times-Picayune

“Fiercely realized. . .luxuriant in its emotional comprehension and the idea, or promise, that anything might happen.”–Boston Globe

“Radiant…an intimate literary triptych of lives pulled together and torn apart.”–Chicago Tribune

“Sophisticated . . . Engrossing . . . Catches the surprising twists and turns in family relationships, amid love, loss, hope and regret.”–Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“The sort of sparkling debut that marks a writer as one to watch.” –Daily News

“The fluid, evolving nature of family history is at the heart of this assured first novel.”–Time Out New York

“This first novel treats family ties, erotic longing, small children and prolonged deaths from AIDS and cancer with a subtlety that grows from scrupulous unsentimentality.”–Newsday

“Formidable. . . The traditional novel of social relations is very much alive in Three Junes. Virginia Woolf and Elizabeth Bowen, among other exemplars, would surely approve.”–Kirkus Reviews

“Brimming with a marvelous cast of intricate characters set in an assortment of scintillating backdrops, Glass's philosophically introspective novel is highly intelligent and well-written.”–Booklist

Awards

WINNER National Book Awards
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

NATIONAL BESTSELLER
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.

About the Guide

Glass has made an ambitious debut with a triptych portraying a Scottish family during three fateful summers over a decade in their lives. In the novel’s first part, we meet Paul McLeod, the patriarch, who is touring Greece after the death of his vivacious wife. The story of his infatuation with a young American artist he meets there, and his gesture toward a new freedom so late in life, segues into the tour de force of Part Two, where we experience another dimension of the privileged but provincial world of the McLeods—and the cosmopolitan world of New York City’s West Village—from the perspective of Fenno, Paul’s eldest son. A lovable, slightly repressed but self-aware gay man, he leads the life of an aloof expatriate,trying to protect himself from emotional entanglement—until a worldly neighbor presents him with an extraordinary gift and a seductive photographer makes him an unwitting subject. And in the final part, Fenno crosses paths with Fern, the woman who captivated his father in Greece ten years before and who is pregnant with a son she may decide to raise on her own. It is at these characters’ fateful meeting—over a Long Island dinner table one exquisite night in June—that all the loves and losses of this rich, emotionally complex book come together.

Glass’s brilliantly conceived story and perfect pacing—the scenes carefully layered to encompass both surprising revelations and slowly simmering developments—announce her as a master of the novel form. Her sensitivity to the nuances of character and human relationships will make these particular characters and relationships simply unforgettable to anyone who picks up Three Junes.

About the Author

Julia Glass was awarded a 2000 New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship in fiction writing and has won several prizes for her short stories, including three Nelson Algren Awards and the Tobias Wolff Award. “Collies,” the first part of Three Junes, won the 1999 Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society Medal for Best Novella. She lives with her family in New York City, where she works as a freelance journalist and editor.

Discussion Guides

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?

Suggested Readings

John Berger, To the Wedding; John Casey, The Half-life of Happiness; Michael Cunningham, The Hours; Alice Munro, The Progress of Love; Jayne Anne Phillips, Machine Dreams; Vikram Seth, The Golden Gate: A Novel in Verse; Jane Smiley, A Thousand Acres.
Julia Glass

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Julia Glass - Three Junes

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  • Three Junes by Julia Glass
  • April 22, 2003
  • Fiction - Literary
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  • $14.95
  • 9780385721424

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