Audra (Unabridged Chick)'s Reviews > Centuries of June

Centuries of June by Keith Donohue
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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 for 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.
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Reading Progress

07/01/2011 page 3
1.0% "ew, gross & creepy & totally fabulous open"
07/01/2011 page 47
13.0% "v odd novel - story-in-a-story - slightly self conscious but not off putting"
07/02/2011 page 90
26.0% "seriously, no matter the setup, two women-one man is never artistic, inventive, provocative, or interesting. frankly it just depresses me that's the best we can manage."
07/02/2011 page 120
34.0% "Transitions from main story to story-within-story are more and more contrived. not entirely thrilled with the dipiction of women so far: all victims of violence and hyper sexualized relationships."
07/03/2011 page 146
41.0% "ugh. the three previous women remained clothed but the woman of color, upon arriving, is disrobed in seconds for lecherous dad and useless narrator. can't a woman be more than sex in this book?"
07/05/2011 page 221
63.0% "I think I get what Donohue is trying to do, and at moments, I'm moved and entertained; but most of the time, I'm really aware of the 'tricks' he's employing. And I quite hate how he handles women."

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