Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Book Review: JUNE: A NOVEL

Title: June: A Novel
Author: Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
Publisher: Crown
Pages: 400

June: A Novel is as much about the girl-woman June as it is about events that took place in June 1955, events that had a bearing on their descendants 60 years later in June 2015.

This story begins in the most delectable manner possible with a house, Two Oaks, as the centre of a drama that unfolded in the past. The house, long deserted, is alive, dreaming of the past and longing to recreate its glory.

It is a massive mansion into which June and her mother, Cheryl Ann, moved, through the kindness of Lemon Neely, the millionaire owner of Two Oaks, whose wife, Mae, was June’s father’s aunt.

Chapters alternate between Cassie in June 2015, having just moved into the now-crumbling Two Oaks, having inherited it on the death of her grandmother, June; and June in June 1955, just a month away from becoming a bride. The two eras alternate back and forth over chapters and I felt a sharp sense of disappointment as the last chapter on each era ended.

But June’s fiancé, Arthur Danvers, is absconding. It is a match that Cheryl Ann, and Clyde, Arthur’s brother, have planned, and one that June has reconciled herself to. Arthur is a good man, what more could she want?

June is friends with 14-year-old Lindie who dreams of being cast as an extra in a Hollywood move to be shot in their town, St Jude. Lindie lands a job on the set of the film, starring legendary matinee idol Jack Montgomery and Diane DeSoto.

June meets Jack on the day she is supposed to meet her fiancé off the bus. But Arthur doesn’t show up.

Over the course of 10 days, they meet secretly every day, a midnight tryst that is far from sexual, yet filled with a delicious sense of possibility. But the romance is cut short when Diane arrives.

In 2015, Cassandra “Cassie” Danvers, aged 25, suffering from depression, moves into Two Oaks. She learns that aged film star Jack has died, willing her $37 million, besides a few lavish houses. Jack’s daughters from different mothers, Elda and Tate, are upset, and Cassie cannot understand why Jack would leave her everything.

Soon Tate appears on the scene, along with her assistant Nick and girl-Friday Hank, to find out if Cassie’s father was Jack’s son, anxious to subject Cassie to a DNA test.

Nick and Cassie seek to find the truth about Jack and June. Talking with the locals, they discover nothing. But Cassie, haunted by her dreams, is sure there is something. Until a letter from Lindie in Chicago to June reveals that there was some intrigue that has lain hidden all these years.

And all along, we get June’s story, seemingly through the dreams that Cassie dreams in her grandmother’s house, the vibrant scene of all those doings six decades ago.

The characters have their own back stories and complexities. Lindie has feelings for June, feelings that June is clueless about. This makes Lindie even more intriguing as a character. It is her machinations to secure June’s happiness that drive this story onward. And yet it seems that she seeks happiness for June at her own cost. You also can’t help but be drawn to Lindie, her earnestness, her desire to help, the fact that she is bullied by the spoilt rich girls in town.

Clyde is determined to secure June’s marriage with her brother, and her fortune. He is also hellbent on profiting from the developments that will transform St Jude.

Of all the women, and there are so many from Cheryl Ann to June, Lindie, Diane and Apatha in the past and Cassie, Tata, Elda and Hank in the present, it was Apatha who left her mark on me in her solid, no-nonsense manner. Her comment about famous people, They sit on the toilet seat, same as you and me is something I shall remember to use when the need arises.

Among the men, it was Eben, Lindie’s father, I liked, for his moral uprightness, for the way he had raised his daughter after his wife ran away, the indulgence and respect with which he treats Lindie, for saying to his more-boy-than-girl daughter that You should wear what feels right to the party.

Clyde is determined to profit from every one of his associations.

Adelbert, Cassie’s father, and Marvin, June’s father, are absent as is Lorraine, Lindie’s mother, but their shadows linger over the others.

The author builds up the atmosphere, relying on colours in the past, and sounds and noises, the faintest of them, in the present.

I’d enjoyed Miranda’s writing earlier in Bittersweet, and this book did not disappoint as far as the writing was concerned. As in Bittersweet, she reveals her ability to make the reader a part of her story. Her omniscient voice, charming and homely, that draws us on. We find ourselves in St Jude, Ohio, as surely as the characters, one with the residents of the town, frowning upon the outsiders  -- the Hollywood set in both 1955 and 2015 – as they look down upon the town.

It is the details that enliven this book. The details in the descriptions and the emotions, until you’re one with Jack and June, and Lindie, and even with Cassie and Nick, Tata and Elda.

Ultimately, June is the story of murder, greed, deceit and desire, of betrayal, and rejection, of friendship and above all, of love. It is also the story of a torrent of emotion, stemming from infidelity and rejection. Hearts are broken and trust is lost, and yet it is all redeemed by the forgiveness and acceptance that characters in the present demonstrate.

(I received a free digital copy of this book from First To Read.)

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