Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Book Review: The Sixteenth of June

The Sixteenth of June
Published By: Scribner
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
Page Count: 256
Buy It: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound
Source: ARC Provided By Publisher
Audience/Genre: Adult Fiction

Maya Lang's debut novel is a delicately told and complex story about the variations of love, the lengths we will go to be be accepted, and the games we play with both ourselves and our loved ones to keep the peace. It's also an engrossing, yet beautifully succinct, novel that I cannot recommend highly enough. The Sixteenth of June is told over the course of a single day and is told in alternating perspectives by brothers Stephen and Leopold (Leo), and Nora, Stephen's best friend and Leo's fiancee as they navigate a grandmother's funeral, their parents' annual Bloomsday party, and their relationships with each other.

 The first thing you should know about this book is it's not easy, but it's worth it. By that I mean it is both not an easy read and not an easy book to digest. Yes, you have to invest and pay attention to figure out who each character is. Yes, each time I picked the book back up with more than a 24 hour hiatus I had to backtrack a few pages. Yes, it's a realistic book, so instead of having characters and plot points resolved with a neatly tied bow placed atop the ending, it reflects a messier and more satisfying real life. And yes, it's a lonely little book. But it is also cathartic, beautiful, and real, and if this is her first offering Maya Lang is truly an author to watch. It also bears mention that this is loosely based on and/or frequently alludes to Ulysses by James Joyce. I'll say that though I've read and enjoy Joyce, I've not taken a crack at Ulysses and was able to enjoy this book immensely.

There certainly a plot to The Sixteenth of June, but characterization is where Lang shines and, because the book is told over the course of a single day, much of the story is told in flashbacks and through the nuances in the interactions between the three, late-20-something, main characters and their family members. Leo's desire for the traditional, suburban male life of four-door cars, white picket fences, and 2.5 children makes him an anomaly in his successful, genteel family, while his brother Stephen is only too happy to fall into the role of the cultured, good son of ambiguous sexual-orientation. Nora is her own entity entirely as she balances these oil and water brothers, and struggles with her own demons. Leo and Stephen's parents, and to a slightly lesser degree, Nora's mother, compliment the three main characters and it is through the interactions between them the story takes shape.

My favorite part of this book is the characters because each of them is real and incredibly flawed. Insecurity, depression, vanity, malice, indecision, and ego all rear their ugly heads, but I never, ever disliked the characters. I find this is the novel's strength, not once did I find myself unable to identify with the characters, even the ones who were nothing at all like me.  The other success is that Lang is able to take a wealthy family and humanize them in a way that doesn't create the usual "Yeah, but they're RICH, so they should just suck it up an deal with life" reaction which is something I often find difficult for authors to pull off. I didn't like all of the characters, but I loved each of them throughout the entire novel.

Last Word: Delicate and subtle, this is a novel that you cannot blow through in an afternoon at the beach, but one that will stick with you far longer than a single day.

Summary via Goodreads

A finely observed, wry social satire set in Philadelphia over the course of a single day, this soaring debut novel paints a moving portrait of a family at a turning point.

Leopold Portman, a young IT manager a few years out of college, dreams of settling down in Philly’s bucolic suburbs and starting a family with his fiancĂ©e, Nora. A talented singer in mourning for her mother, Nora has abandoned a promising opera career and wonders what her destiny holds. Her best friend, Stephen, Leopold’s brother, dithers in his seventh year of graduate school and privately questions Leo and Nora’s relationship. On June 16, 2004, the three are brought together—first for a funeral, then for an annual Bloomsday party. As the long-simmering tensions between them come to a head, they are forced to confront the choices of their pasts and their hopes for the future.


  1. My eye immediately caught the cover on my blog newsfeed and I'm glad you liked it! It sounds really good!


    1. Same for me! Te cover is so beautiful and simple...I picked it for a Cover Crazy feature today because of your comment. :) At first, I thought maybe it was just me that found it so striking....but it really is pretty!

  2. You describe this book so beautifully, I just have to read it as soon as I can. Reminds me a little of Atonement, but only just a little. Awesome review.

    1. I hadn't put those together, but it does remind me a bit of Atonement. I adored Atonement, but it was so bittersweet...this novel really gave me the same type of feeling.


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