Publication date: June 3, 2014
Source: I received this ARC from the author in exchange for my honest review.
Today is the last day of school for me - as a teacher, that is. June is well on its way...the sun is shining, our pool is open, the grill has been firing, and I have already snuggled a book on the porch swing. The Sixteenth of June, by Maya Lang to be exact.
I love books tied to other famous stories. The dedication of The Sixteenth of June reads, "For all the readers who never made it through Ulysses (or haven't wanted to try)." I have to say that any parallels between Lang's story and Joyce's are totally lost on me. I have never wanted to read anything Joyce and I can't promise I will. However, missing that connection doesn't ruin Lang's book in the least. Lang's story focuses around a wealthy family with two sons, Stephen and Leopold. Leopold craves his family's love and attention, working to earn it, but never feeling satisfied he is loved in return. Stephen, stuck in the seventh year of his PhD dissertation, cannot move forward with life, instead debating ways to run from the rut he finds himself in. Nora, who was first Stephen's best friend and then Leo's fiancée, is struggling to feel alive, or even fake it, as she continues to mourn her mother's death a year after the fact.
I admit I started slowly, but it was my fault for the busy week I had when I started reading. By the second chapter, I started connecting with the characters. Nora had me with one thought about her mother's battle with cancer: "The truth is that it was hard to be around her. She used to joke that cancer was like a mistress. I didn't know what she meant, but maybe now I do. I guess I felt pushed out. She couldn't be with her kid with the mistress in town." Having experienced a close relative's battle with cancer, I understood Nora instantly. It's not that the person is pushing anyone out - in fact, they need family support more than ever - but cancer has a way of taking over life in more ways than you can assume or imagine. It takes out more than the physical body if one's not careful.
Once I made that connection with Nora, I was set to see what the other characters had to offer. I've never been in Stephen's situation. My life went straight to college, a career, grad school, and continued with my teaching career. I've always felt I am where I should be. However, that didn't stop me from feeling sympathy for Stephen. He's sincere and insightful about those around him. He knows the meaning of life lies beyond his parents' ridiculous wealth, yet, at the same time, he struggles with knowing who he is and where he is headed. Unlike Stephen, Leo has a secure job, but Leo often speaks about his relationship status with his family members, which I can also relate to. You have visions of how relationships will work out in the future and they don't always come to fruition, for whatever reason. I imagine Leo's struggle is very real for many people.
Everything the story builds comes to a head in the end with a great statement, "We all spin stories. That's what we do. We want people to see certain things about us and not others. What matters is whether you let others in to the truest story, the one that is the scariest to tell." Of course, this requires a trusted confidant on the listening side.
So, even without my understanding of the Ulysses parallels, I found myself liking The Sixteenth of June through these character connections. Their real thoughts and both founded and unfounded fears made them human. I enjoyed this story.
What's your first read of June?