Centuries of June, the newest novel by author Keith Donohue, is about a man named Jack who has just woken up on his bathroom floor and he’s trying to figure out exactly what happened and how he ended up there. To help him figure it out, 8 women from throughout history visit him and add their own explanation to the story, in which Jack usually represents some other disappointing man in history. Finally, the eighth visitor is his wife. Centuries of June is a funny novel that tells the story of one man through history, reiterating the old idea that history just keeps on repeating itself.
But Centuries of June isn’t the only novel that uses this technique. For this Further Reading, I’ll look at three books that use history and alternative history to tell a modern story.
Man in the Dark by Paul Auster – In this slim novel, Paul Auster uses an alternative dream world, where the United States is involved in another Civil War, to symbolize the internal struggle of main character and car accident victim August Brill. In August’s alternative US, the the World Trade Center still stands and the 2000 election results in a secession that leads to the second Civil War.
Flight by Sherman Alexie – I know I’ve already talked about Flight in Further Reading, but this was too good of a connection to pass up. Previously I talked about how Sherman Alexie uses his controversial narrator Zits to explore inequalities in the world, but this time I’d like to focus on the alternative realities. Much like the protagonist of Centuries of June, Zits finds himself transported back in time to inhabit the lives of terrible men throughout history.
The Company Novels by Kage Baker - These are some of the post popular science fiction novels, especially for cross-over readers, because they incorporate rich historical and literary details. The main character of this series is Mendoza, a botanist cyborg that was born during the Spanish Inquisition. Essentially, in the future, the Company has developed a way to make humans immortal, but it results in the humans being more or less machines. Though most people in the future do not want to become immortal, they travel throughout history to find people in need (like Mendoza, who is about to be executed in Spain), people who would be willing to devote their life to service in the Company. Those cyborgs have to find and preserve valuable artifacts from the past. In Mendoza’s case, she finds plants that will eventually go extinct and preserves them for the Company. They’re richly detailed, complex and satisfying novels.