Readers may be reminded of Evelyn Waugh and, especially, Angus Wilson by the rich characterizations and narrative sweep that grace this fine debut about three summers in—and surrounding—the lives of a prominent and prosperous Scottish family.
Recently widowed Paul MacLeod languishes through a guided tour of Greece in 1989, buoyed by a hopeful, not-quite-romantic relationship with a Daisy Miller–like American artist. This sequence is a rich blend of carefully juxtaposed present action and extended flashbacks to Paul’s youth and wartime service, management of his family’s highly successful newspaper, and conflicted marriage to the woman whom he adored and who was probably unfaithful to him. The second “summer” (of 1995) brings Paul’s gay eldest son Fenno home from New York City (where he co-owns a small bookstore) for his father’s burial, and his own roiling memories of compromised relationships with his two brothers and their families and with former lovers and mentors. Fenno’s account of what he wryly calls “a life of chiaroscuro—or scuroscuro: between one kind of darkness and another” is the best thing here. The third summer, of 1999, focuses on Fern, the artist Paul had briefly encountered during his Grecian junket. Glass deftly sketches in Fern’s history of romantic and marital disappointments (she seems to be fatally attracted to men who are gay, bisexual, self-destructive, or just plain undependable) as well as present confusions (she’s living with Fenno’s former lover). But the manner in which Fern is coincidentally re-connected with the surviving MacLeods is both ingeniously skillful and just a tad too contrived. Glass makes it all work, though the parts are not uniformly credible or compelling.
Nevertheless, a rather formidable debut. The traditional novel of social relations is very much alive in Three Junes. Virginia Woolf and Elizabeth Bowen, among other exemplars, would surely approve.