Bill Brody, Mostly Fiction
Centuries of June by Keith Donohue is a modern fable revolving around American myths and Hindu concepts of reincarnation. The protagonist is a man who awakens to find himself with a hole in the back of his head and no idea of who he is or who the eight nude women sleeping in his bed might be. An elderly figure who he believes is the ghost of Samuel Beckett helps him into the bathroom and then saves his life from each woman as they attack him in historical order of when they were wronged by him in his past lives.
This is a love story told through five centuries of American myth by the eight women from his bed, each who loved our protagonist more deeply, wisely and passionately than he could reciprocate. Each was wronged in some way or another. The cycle of fables starts with a tale told by S’ee, a Tlingit (Northwest Coast Alaskan Indian) woman of 500 years ago who marries a grizzly bear and ends with a story told by Sita at our protagonist’s wake to his brother in the present time.
Sita is the last girlfriend, a contemporary woman who grew up listening to tales from the Ramayana told by her Bengali father, a doctor in the United States. During the course of the story we move forward in time by roughly 75 year jumps and visit, among other times and places, Honus Wagner’s Pittsburg (note archaic spelling), early 19th century New Orleans with slavery, voodoo and the invention of New Orleans cuisine and the California gold rush of 1849.
Each of the chapters is told by one of the wronged women in the style of the period without being overly cute with obscure usage or spelling. There are references to Native American myth, to noir detective stories of the 1950’s and to William Shakespeare’s Tempest. Reference to Samuel Beckett and Waiting for Godot is explicit. Donohue’s colonial era tales and style remind me of John Barth.
Regardless of literary references or allusions, Centuries of June is a whole lot of fun to read. I enjoyed it immensely and could not wait to read the next installment and find out how our hero was going to be attacked, by whom and why. It became clear early on that this was a tale of reincarnation and so I kept wondering if he was going to learn anything from this parade of cautionary fables detailing the mistakes and failures of ethics, loyalty and passion in his past lives. The weave of different styles of writing is refreshing and a lot of fun. Mr. Donohue has a great sense of humor, and eyes and ears for the absurd. I look forward to more of his well-crafted and inventive novels.