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The Sixteenth of June


The Sixteenth of June

Maya Lang’s debut novel follows the lives of the socially elite Portman family over the course of a single, eventful day. It begins with the grandmother’s funeral and ends with the family’s annual Bloomsday party at their posh Philadelphia brownstone.

THE SIXTEENTH OF JUNE mirrors James Joyce’s seminal work ULYSSES in its character names, plot points, and occasionally, lines from the original text. Twenty-something Nora has recently become engaged to Leo Portman, the youngest son, whose character is modeled after Harold Bloom. Leo’s brother, Stephen, questions the match, and as the day wears on, we realize that these characters carry around with them the baggage of long, unexamined relationships. Like Joyce’s novel, the bulk of the story’s action takes place in the characters’ heads.  Each chapter represents a different perspective, so that we often see a single scene from multiple points of view.

"The plot of THE SIXTEENTH OF JUNE hums along at a quick pace. Lang’s writing is clear and self-assured, and despite being based on ULYSSES, it is a pleasure to read."

Lang plunges deep into the stream-of-consciousness thoughts that drive her characters. Each is cursed with the same affliction: the Joycian tragic flaw of being unable or unwilling to act in one’s own self-interest, to communicate effectively, and to overcome one’s own anxiety long enough to make a connection with another person.  

The plot of THE SIXTEENTH OF JUNE hums along at a quick pace. Lang’s writing is clear and self-assured, and despite being based on ULYSSES, it is a pleasure to read. Lang’s metaphors are beautiful: “The car smells of baked damp, black umbrellas drying at the feet of their owners like small dogs.” Her lyricism is devoid of Joyce’s characteristic obscurity. In fact, it occasionally swings too far in the opposite direction, when the author tells the reader what the point of a particular paragraph or chapter was supposed to be. Lang knows what she wants you to get out of this, which makes for a very assuring read, but not necessarily a Joycian experience.

Each of Lang’s characters constructs his own narrative of modern ennui that, while relevant and timely, also feels whiny and melodramatic. We don’t like any of these people. Sure, they all have good sides that they trot out occasionally, but all too often their good sides are revealed to be empty charisma, and their virtues are represented as mere acknowledgement and self-awareness of their flaws. Is this the best we can conjure up for a modern virtue? Awareness of imperfection? I think even Joyce would disagree.

All in all, Lang has set up a very ambitious concept for a first novel. However, with humor and insight, she ends up creating something other than that which she professes --- not a novel based on Joyce, but a better homage: a novel that reflects modern life.

Reviewed by Shelby Wardlaw on June 20, 2014

The Sixteenth of June
by Maya Lang

  • Publication Date: June 16, 2015
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • ISBN-10: 1476745773
  • ISBN-13: 9781476745770