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Mystical ‘Centuries of June' covers 500 years of American history in a single night

Book review: “Centuries of June” by Keith Donohue is a murder mystery and ghost story that takes place entirely in the bathroom of an old house in one night in June, yet covers 500 years of American history.
Published: June 12, 2011

“Centuries of June” (Crown Publishers, $24) by Keith Donohue is told in an unusual manner. In the bathroom of an old house before dawn on a June night, Jack, the tale's narrator, wakes up in a puddle of blood, with a hole in his head. As he awakens, he sees an old man, sitting on the side of the tub, who asks him how he came to be in this predicament.

Jack starts to tell the old man, who at first resembles his father, about coming home and seeing seven bicycles lined up outside his house, and then finding eight women in his bed. He feels a presence behind him, and the first of the women, Dolly, is attempting to hit him with a club.

The old man positions himself between them to protect Jack, and Dolly tells her story. She is a Tlingit woman from southeast Alaska who married a shape-shifting bear and blames Jack for all her misfortunes.

She is followed by the other women, each from a different era of history, all of them accusatory toward Jack, who assumes he is standing in for all the men who wronged them. Among them are Alice, who is caught up in the Salem witch trials; Bunny, a New York City housewife; Flo, who pans for gold in the 19th-century gold rush; and Marie, covered with tattoos that tell the story of her life. Each woman tells her story, always of love gone wrong, and then fades into the group.

When Jack hears his wife's story, he begins to understand the night's events — the stopped clocks, talking cat and what he has decided is the ghost of writer Samuel Beckett and not his father. This is a humorous historical fantasy, a ghost story, a good mystery and just a little bit peculiar. The surprise ending is perfect.

— Betty Lytle