Centuries of June by Keith Donohue
Author: Keith Donohue
Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Historical / Surreal)
Publisher/Publication Date: Crown (5/31/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: Okay to liked to irritation to contentment and everything in between!
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: One night a man is revisited by the women from his eight past lives.
Reading Challenges: None.
Do I like the cover?: Yes -- it's very striking and is inspired by a line directly from the story.
I'm reminded of...: Aimee Bender, Michael Cunningham, Milan Kundera
First line: We all fall down.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow -- the stories-in-the-story are just marvelous and absolutely worth reading; I'm just not sure I'd reread this.
Why did I get this book?: The cover totally grabbed me -- it's so striking! Then the unique premise.
Review: This unique novel mixes surreal lit fic and dreamy historical fiction to make a (mostly) compelling story about love, loss, responsibility, and moving on. The reader and the unnamed narrator are plunged immediately -- from the first paragraph -- into the same confusing mystery: what happened to him and who are all these people in his bathroom?
Strangely I feel ambivalent toward this novel even though it hits so many elements I like in a book: fascinating heroines, literary references, story-within-a-story, and interesting locales (including Pittsburgh!). My coolness toward this book is due to the narrator and his guide-to-the-afterlife. Both felt very artificial and joke-y to me; and while the guide can be excused, I suppose, since he's mythic and otherworldly, the narrator was very much real and yet, he felt flat, hollow, and boring.
Visited by seven women, all unlucky in love and life, the narrator is regaled with their stories, which includes a Native American who fell in love with a shapeshifting bear; a victim of the Salem witch trials; a slave saving for her freedom; a gold prospector in the mid 1800s; and a 1950s housewife eager to rid of her husband. The women and their stories were the best part of the novel, and I just loved their interludes. I had less patience with the sexualized treatment of the seven women: it felt a bit unnecessary especially since the women themselves rarely were the sexual instigators. They were the recipients of male attention -- some passive, some active -- that had an edge of violence that made me frustrated. The women were confronting the narrator but in the end, I didn't feel like they got the justice they wanted.
There's a cinematic quality to the writing which is also lovely when it works and grating when it doesn't, but I will say this novel occupied my thoughts constantly, and I rushed to finish it. This is another summer read that has some oomph for those who want more than fluff but not something too heavy; I suspect this would also make a great book club or group read.
*** *** ***
Read an excerpt of the book or check out the author's website. For more reviews, see the other blogs on the tour.
GIVEAWAY! I'm giving away one copy of Centuries of June! Just leave a comment with an email address to enter. Ends 7/22, US/CA readers only.