Philosophical Monday: THREE JUNES by Julia Glass [Book 39 of 2010]

Welcome to BOOK WEEK 2 everyone! Here’s the dealy: I have 13 more books to read and review for you by December 31 — totally doable; I assure you. So every day this week, I’ll be bringing you my thoughts on a different book. And all of our other posts will be book-centric, too. I do think you should thank me for this, b/c you really did dodge a bullet. If not for BOOK WEEK 2, I’d be whinging on about the toils of moving in this space. And we all know how fun it is to hear other people’s moving stories, right? All jokes aside, though, here are my thoughts on THREE JUNES by Julia Glass.

Why I Decided to Read It: Another Altadena Library grab. Now that I’m back to ordering all of my books through the library’s online system again, I’m going to miss the lovely surprises that came with grabbing whatever looked halfway interesting before my daughter got too fussy.

What It’s About: The book has three narrators, the father of three Scottish boys; one of his sons, a gay man who expatriates to New York; and a random American woman, who shares an ex-lover with the gay son.

What Makes It Different: Well, Julia Glass is an American author writing intimately about a Scottish family, mostly from a male POV. The one female narrator only gets to talk for a little bit. Also, this was Glass’s debut novel, and it won the National Book Award.

What I Loved: Well, I picked up this book shortly after traveling to Scotland, so it was a nice change of pace to read something literary, set in one of my favorite countries. Also, I finished the book a couple of months ago, but I’ve been amazed by how the characters have stayed with me. It really is a very intimate novel, and it feels that you know these people inside and out by the time it is through.

What I Didn’t Like: My didn’t-like isn’t quite fair. It’s more of a writing values situation. I’m a big fan of plot and structure. This novel barely bothered with either. It felt like the equivalent of taking a long meandering walk through a very interesting landscape — the only thing is that I hate long and meandering walks. I don’t, in fact, ever walk unless I have somewhere specific to go.

Writing Lessons Learned:

Expats Have More Fun. The longest section in the book belonged to the gay son who moved from Scotland to New York. There is something inherently interesting about characters who grow up on farms relocating to massive cities and vice versa. So if you want to make your character especially interesting, think about plopping her or him down in place totally opposite of the one s/he grew up in.

Read Against Your Values. This is basically the exact opposite of a book I would have written. It’s character-driven, it meanders, and it revolves around the kind of people I would never get along with in real life: a dog-trainer, a son who uses his inheritance to open a wildly-successful, bird-centered bookstore. And the one person I did really want to hear more about, the frustrated female painter, who still hasn’t told her Greek boyfriend that she’s pregnant gets decidedly short shrift. But it’s good to read an opposite book from time to time in my opinion, because by saying, “I would never have written it that way,” you truly discover what kind of writer you are. For example, I know that I’m a plot-driven because I’ve read (and have been frustrated with) so many character-driven novels.

Write Outside of Yourself. Often when people ask if my main character, Davie Jones, is based on me, I answer that “No, she’s much more interesting.” There’s nothing wrong with fictionalizing yourself, but I’d argue that if you, like me, have a short attention span and also enjoy making discoveries about your characters as you charge forward with your plot, writing about someone wholly different from yourself is way more interesting and fun.

To Whom Would I Recommend This Book: The Reading Upperclass, People Who Watch PBS All Day, People Who Preferred the Old NPR, People With Long Attention Spans.

featured calendar image credit: Lisa Rupp