Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Centuries of June

Have you ever noticed that after a while, books start to all seem the same?  There are frameworks that are used, to varying degrees of effectiveness, over and over.  It could be the person who has to confront and reevaluate her life due to a case of amnesia (see: What Alice Forgot, The Last Letter from Your Lover,  or Man Walks into a Room), or the scholar who stumbles into a centuries-old conspiracy that he has to solve before being killed by a secret cult that was long thought dormant (see: The DaVinci Code, The Rule of Four, or The Mozart Conspiracy), or even the couple destined to be together who are kept apart for years due to a family conflict or a terrible misunderstanding before finally realizing their mutual love and affection (see: ...oh, I can't even start to narrow down that one).  Regardless of how good they are (and some of the titles I just mentioned -- though not all -- are very good) it sometimes feels like there are a finite number of structures into which a story can fit and that the book's merit is based solely on how the author operates within that structure.  

And then...something different comes along that is so unique that it has the effect of being refreshing.  Enter Keith Donohue's new book, Centuries of June.   It begins with a late night trip to the bathroom that goes bad when the narrator falls and injures his head.  From there, the early hours unfold as he is visited by an old man and eight unique women, each of whom had been wronged by a man in another time, and who form a unique community in his bathroom as they listen to each other's tales.  The vagaries of time, space, and a talking cat only add to the narrator's confusion, but as he begins to understand the women and their place in his bathroom, his role becomes clear.  The blending of different times, situations, and dialects ultimately comes together to a cohesive conclusion that is satisfying without answering every question. 

One the most laudable aspects of this book -- its unique style that sets it apart from other stories -- also makes it somewhat difficult to write about, since there is no natural comparison.  I can't say, "well, if you liked X book, you'll definitely like this."  (The closest I can come if you're really looking for a comparison is Andrew Davidson's The Gargoyle, which I consider high praise.)  Kirkus calls Centuries of June "[p]eculiar and quirky and sure to appeal to offbeat tastes."  I say if you're looking for something a little different, give it a try. 

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