'Centuries of June': Keith Donohue's latest is masterful fantasy
June 26, 2011 4:00 AM
Keith Donohue -- takes the reader on a journey through time.
By Allan Walton Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It's become clear with his third novel, "Centuries of June," that Keith Donohue not only has raced to the forefront of fantasy fiction, but also he may well be its pacesetter.
Following on the heels of acclaimed predecessors, "The Stolen Child" and "Angels of Destruction," Mr. Donohue this time takes readers on a mesmerizing journey through time, all told primarily from the confines of ... a bathroom?
Our narrator has a tumble after awakening for a late-night call of nature. This is a brutal fall, bringing with it a hole in the head and enough blood -- he calls it "a scarlet river" -- to make what follows seem one part hallucination, the other part the dreamy ramblings of someone losing consciousness or, perhaps, on the verge of something worse.
"CENTURIES OF JUNE"
By Keith Donohue.
The victim, Jack (although unnamed for much of the book), notices another entity in the room. His late father?
Jack initially calls him "Dad" but changes to "Beckett" (you'll learn why) as the old man eventually serves as companion and protector when a series of naked women arrive to tell their stories, covering a span of five centuries.
Unfolding as mini-mysteries from one chapter to the next, the women weave compelling, often tragic stories of betrayal and injustice. Jack must first fend off their vengeance before absorbing the power of their words.
As he listens, he struggles to understand why he has become their sounding board. What is his responsibility in their hurt? What purpose will be served by his enlightenment?
Mr. Donohue's women are remarkably well drawn, spun from fantasy but imbued with the sensibilities of all who suffer gender inequities.
It begins with Shax'saani S'ee (Dolly), who springs from Tlingit mythology (an ancient Alaskan tribe) and tells of her marriage to a shape-shifting bear. Others follow, among them Alice, who endures indignities during the Salem Witch Trials, and Adele, whose baseball-tinged story includes references to early 1900s Pittsburg, as it was spelled then.
As Beckett says: "Hey, I thought there was an 'h' at the end of Pittsburgh."
To which Adele responds: "Not in Aught-three."
The references to the Pirates, Exposition Park and other local landmarks reflect the author's Pittsburgh roots. Also reflective of Mr. Donohue is the seamless mix of generational language, contemporary prose and regional dialect, not to mention humor and pathos -- all used to captivating effect for 342 mystifying and marvelous pages.
As one might imagine, the women -- eight, all told -- have an effect on Jack, whose confusion slowly gives way to understanding and compassion. The last of the feminine visitors is the one most known to Jack, leading to a soulfully satisfying ending.
"Centuries of June" draws its name from the month in which the women's stories unfold. It's a fitting title that doubles as metaphor for Mr. Donohue's talents. This novel, like the two before it, almost certainly will span the ages.