While I have not yet finished it, this book is beautiful. It’s not a suspenseful, gripping page turner type of great. Instead, its an emotionally moving, poignant, richly charactered type of great. It’s a love story, though one of the more unique I have read (up there with “Just Kids” by Patti Smith in terms of unconventional and memorable love stories).
This story is about young June, recovering from and grieving the death of her uncle, Finn. The two shared an emotionally close, deep friendship. One of much poignant connection and authentic understanding. They had similar temperaments and hearts, both more interested in the romantic aspects of life, as opposed to the more shallow pursuits of many. Each drawn to things such as conversation, music, candlelight, museums, sumptuous meals, photographs, deep personal connection, leisurely tea, paintings, just sitting in quiet with one another, long walks outside, etc.
Finn dies of AIDS, which during the 1980’s (when this book takes place) was perceived and handled very differently than it would be, say, today. Thus, June must also contend with people’s outer perceptions of Finn on their learning of the nature of his death. This is both confusing and deeply angering for her.
The book paints for us beautiful scenes of the relationship that June and Finn shared. These are powerful, nuanced, and as mentioned, moving. I underlined several. The prose in this book is poetic, whimsical, and lovely.
A few passages thus far that I have found especially awesome:
“And then I fell asleep. The bed was warm and ordinary and perfect, and it had been such a long, long day. Probably the longest day of my life. I felt like I had proof that not all days are the same length, not all time has the same weight. Proof that there are worlds and worlds and worlds on top of worlds, if you want them to be there.”
(This next one is on her receiving a gift from her uncle Finn, to her. Though she is given the gift after he has already passed away).
“In my lap was the small gift, wrapped in blue butterfly paper. I didn’t open it right away, because it was frightening to open something from a dead person. Especially a dead person you loved. Opening a present from a live person was scary enough. There was always the chance that the gift might be so wrong, so completely not the kind of thing you liked, that you’d realize they didn’t really know you at all. I knew it wouldn’t be like that with this present from Finn. What was scary about this was that I knew it would be perfect- completely, totally perfect. What if nobody ever knew me like that again? What if I went through my whole life getting mediocre gifts- bath sets and boxes of chocolate and bed socks- and never found someone who knew me the way Finn did?”
(And then this one, a moment of the inner struggle she has in having to contend with other’s inquiries and limited, ignorant views of her uncle).
“Your uncle…I saw that article in the library,” Ben looked away for a second. “He really had AIDS?”
I nodded. A few people had come up to me in school after they’d seen the article. I guess we were the first people to have any connection to this huge thing that was always on the news. The first ones anybody knew about anyway, and it seemed to fascinate people. When they asked me about it, there was always a slight tone of awe in their voices. Like Finn having AIDS had somehow made me cooler in their eyes. I never tried to take advantage of that. When people mentioned it to me, they thought they were talking about some casual relative of mine. For most people, that’s what an uncle was. They had no idea how I felt about Finn. No idea that hearing them talk about AIDS, like that was the important part of the story- more important than who Finn was, or how much I loved him, or how much he was still breaking my heart every single hour of every single day- made me want to scream.”
(This last passage takes place when she is speaking with Toby, the man she has recently met and found out that her uncle, Finn, loved).
“What is it?”
He wiped his eyes and tried to put on a smile. “I don’t know,” he said, laughing a little bit. “Everything I suppose.”
And right then I felt my heart soften to Toby, because I knew exactly what he meant. I understood how just about anything in the world could remind you of Finn. Trains, or New York City, or plants, or books, or soft sweet black-and-white cookies, or some guy in Central Park playing a polka on a harmonica and the violin at the same time. Things you’d never even seen with Finn could remind you of him, because he was the one person you’d want to show. “Look at that,” you’d want to say, because you knew he would find a way to think it was wonderful. To make you feel like the most observant person in the world for spotting it.
This book is rich and graceful. It’s laden with charming and alluring detail, as well as an interesting story line. June ends up connecting with Toby, the man her family claims “killed her uncle.” Yet, it seems there is far more to the story than that. That even, the story might be wildly misconstrued. That quite possibly, Toby may be a connection who could grow into something that, while different, will be as special and worthwhile as what she shared with Finn.