A few years ago I bravely attempted to read Ulysses. I finished it, but I got absolutely nothing out of it, except for being able to say that I finished it. That dynamic is partly in play in Maya Lang’s novel, The Sixteenth of June, where June and Michael Portman put on an annual Bloomsday party more for show than for any true appreciation for the novel that inspired it.
Like Ulysses, The Sixteenth of June takes place over one day (June 16th), in this case in 2004, the 100th anniversary of the day recounted by James Joyce. The plans for the Portman’s party are in full swing; however, before the festivities begin the family must attend to the funeral of Michael’s mother, who died alone in a nursing home.
June and Michael’s children, Leopold and Stephen, along with Leo’s fiancee and Stephen’s best friend, Nora, are the focal point of the story and each are dealing with the day’s events in their own way. Leo is patiently waiting for Nora to commit to a wedding date so he can continue his life schedule which includes a move to the suburbs; Stephen is the only one who visited his grandmother (secretly) in her final years and is unsure how or whether to proceed in his academic career; and Nora is still grieving for her mother who died a year ago.
I don’t know if it is a spoiler to say that – as in Ulysses – nothing much happens in this novel, but there is a lot of exploration of relationships between family members and the secrets we keep from each other, for good or bad.
The Sixteenth of June is certainly an easier read than Ulysses and I enjoyed it more, but I can’t say that I loved it. I need to feel something about characters, and here I couldn’t gather any affection or dislike for the 3 main characters. It is a book that will give you things to think about, though, and would probably be a nice choice for book group discussion.