Three Junes by Julia Glass (Anchor Books, $14). Glass' National Book Award winner begins, "Paul chose Greece for its predictable whiteness, the blanching heat by day, the rush of stars at night, the glint of the lime-washed houses crowding its coast. Blinding, searing, somnolent, fossiled Greece." The luminous prose is characteristic of Glass' novel, but there is nothing predictable nor sleepy about her accomplished story of family life and love told in three sections.
In the first, Scottish widower Paul McLeod travels in June of 1989 to Greece, where he reflects on his marriage and is captivated by a young artist, Fern. The second section focuses on Paul's elder son Fenno, a gay New York bookseller, who joins his brothers at their ancestral home. Another June four years later finds Fenno unexpectedly meeting Fern in the Hamptons. Glass writes with insight and intelligence about the complexities of individuals and families.
Think of England by Alice Elliott Dark (Simon & Schuster, $13). Dark's resonant novel, which skillfully maps the emotions of baby boomer Jane MacLeod at three pivotal periods in her life, takes its title from Victorian mothers' advice to their daughters on the eve of their weddings: "Just close your eyes and think of England." Jane's grandmother uses the phrase whenever some mishap occurs, and her children say it ironically. But the irony is lost on 9-year-old Jane, who is writing a book, "The Happy Macmillans," and whose life changes forever on a winter night in 1964. So much for the happy MacLeods. But were they ever really happy? Any chance they ever can be? These questions haunt Jane in 1979 London, when she takes a year off after college, and 20 years later when, as a single mother, she takes her daughter to a family reunion. By then, "think of England" means the way the MacLeods avoid talking about the past, blinkering themselves against guilt, cloaking themselves in comfort.
Wish You Were Here by Stewart O'Nan (Grove Press, $14). Three generations of the Maxwell family gather for one week for a last vacation at their summer cottage in western New York. Patriarch Henry Maxwell has died, but his presence is still felt as his widow Emily gathers the tribe: sister-in-law Arlene; daughter Meg, a recovering alcoholic, and her two children; failed photographer son Ken, his wife, Lisa, and their two kids. The reunion sparks rivalries and revelations. O'Nan's carefully detailed narrative results in rich character studies.
-- Nancy Pate, Knight Ridder Newspapers