Set in 1987, this novel is a period piece and the fact that it is one makes me feel super old. Carol Rifka Brunt captures the feel of the time well—not in the plethora of small pop culture details (and there are many)—but in the way the narrator, her family, and the people around them don’t fully understand AIDS or gay men.
June Elbus has a special relationship with her uncle and godparent, Finn Weiss, who is a famous painter living in New York City. Finn doesn’t care that June is tall and awkward, that she often imagines she is living in the Middle Ages, or that she can’t sing or act like her older sister, Gretta. They make events out of trips to restaurants and NYC landmarks and Finn seems to really “get” June. This makes dealing with Finn’s death from AIDs all the harder because June suddenly feels totally alone.
However, June soon learns that someone else is feeling more alone—Finn’s lover, Toby. Though June knew Toby existed, she had never met him. However, when Toby drives to the suburbs to bring June a teapot that Finn wanted her to have, June is intrigued. Elements of Finn seem to live on in this thin British-accented man. In fits and starts, Toby and June get to know each other—but all on the down low because June’s mother (Finn’s sister) blames Toby for Finn’s death. She can’t know that June is sneaking into the city to spend time with him.
This story is told from June’s awkwardly realistic point-of-view, which means you alternate between wanting to hug her or hit her. You also fall in love with Finn through her memories and Brunt does a good job of not sending this story in the directions you expect. Finally, though many plot summaries focus on the relationship between June and Finn and June and Toby, it’s the relationship, fractured and raw, between June and her sister that really makes this novel a complex whole.