Review

Centuries of June

by Keith Donohue

Keith Donohue's third book follows his highly praised novels THE
STOLEN CHILD and ANGELS OF DESTRUCTION. Like its predecessors,
CENTURIES OF JUNE is nearly impossible to categorize. It reads
like the finest literary fiction, but at the center is a mix of
fantasy, mythology and dream-like sequences that always keep the
reader guessing and intrigued.

CENTURIES OF JUNE takes place almost exclusively in the bathroom
of a man named Jack, who is not having a good day. He wakes up
from the floor of his bathroom to find his upper half covered in
blood. Upon further inspection, he discovers a nice-sized hole
in the back of his head --- most likely the result of tripping over
his often underfoot cat, Harpo, and striking his head on the sink
or bathtub.

Jack immediately experiences a few odd occurrences. First
off, Harpo can talk (quite ironic since he was named after the
"mute" Marx Brother star). There is also an appearance by an
older gentleman who looks like Jack's late father. Later on, this
same man begins to resemble the author Samuel Beckett --- or maybe
it's actually Jack's older brother? These are just a few of
the mind games that Donohue has in store for his readers.

Soon after awakening, Jack reflects, "Today was an ordinary day
in June, the kind that seems to exist permanently, coming each year
for centuries." He also recognizes that when he arrived at his
home earlier that day, he found seven bicycles strewn about his
front lawn and glowing in the sunshine like mirrors to the
sky. Jack's father points out that he noticed there were eight
sets of feet in Jack's bed. Before Jack can investigate this
statement further, one of the strange women enters the
bathroom.

The first is named Dolly, and she appears to be a Native
American. She regales Jack, his father and Harpo with a story
set many centuries earlier about a Native American woman named
Yeikoo.shk who goes on to marry a man who can transform into a
bear. Like all of the tales that will succeed it, this one is set
in and around the month of June. They also are grounded in American
folklore, mythology, history and the fantastic. None are
simple, and all seem to have a central message at their core that
runs through them.

One by one, the strange female occupants of Jack's bed enter the
bathroom, and each has a unique tale to tell. There are
stories dealing with the Salem Witch Trails, Southern Gothic and
ancient mysticism. As Jack listens, he is changed in some way
by the words he hears. He begins to insert his own persona into
each story, and all of the female storytellers are somewhat
familiar to him --- even though their tales span several
centuries. Befuddled and confused by what he's experiencing,
Jack's father tries to explain what he's going through by stating:
"Imagination is the fuel of hope. Better you should leave such
fires be and see what is truly in front of you."

The best and most imaginative part of CENTURIES OF JUNE is saved
for the end, when Jack not only realizes his own mortality but also
walks in on the eighth and final occupant of his bed --- someone he
knows very well. Keith Donohue has put together a real Russian
Doll of a novel, where each layer that is peeled away reveals
another truth and is constantly unpredictable and magical.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on June 6, 2011

Centuries of June
by Keith Donohue

  • Publication Date: May 31, 2011
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Crown
  • ISBN-10: 0307450287
  • ISBN-13: 9780307450289