The Truth About Ben and June
The Truth about Ben and June was a difficult book for me to properly rate. It’s by turns a harrowing portrait of the horrors of postpartum psychosis, a romance that is touching and realistic, a story about mourning, a mediation upon Greek mythology, and a tale of motherly angst.
Ben and June have a seemingly perfect life together. Their new baby, Mikey, appears to have cemented their bond. But one day Ben wakes up in the middle of the night to find his son crying – and no June, who has packed a suitcase and left. While he deals with the police and tries desperately to find his wife, Ben flashes back to the past.
June and Ben met on New Year’s Eve 2010 in a New York emergency room, just minutes before the clock struck midnight. Ben has a broken hand after punching a racist for spitting on his friend; June has a worsening case of the flu. June dreams of being a prima ballerina and at thirty, her time is running out; Ben dreams of being a lawyer and is starting to climb the legal ladder. They excel at both love and their careers, but when June fell unexpectedly pregnant, she had to give up her dream of dancing in Cave of the Heart, a ballet based on the Roman myth Medea.
They have Mikey and settle into a bourgeois suburban life. And then June disappears, and Ben must work out why his wife has suddenly gone away. Ben doesn’t know that June is slowly being mowed under by the messy pressure of young motherhood and regrets giving up her chance to dance, that she feels like she’s a bad and inept mother, that she’s keeping a journal where she communicates with her dead mother, and has had a vicious fight with the women in her Gymboree-like class over what may or may not be an extramarital affair; or that she has an evolving obsession with the Medea myth (and if you know anything about Greek mythology…).
The Truth about Ben and June is a very human, very chilling story. Touching, heartbreaking, and a little bit anger-inducing, it manages to be an engrossing reading experience. The plotline is marginally predictable but perfumed with foreboding, which makes its somewhat conventional ending a disappointment.
But there’s a lot to love about this book. June and Ben are both good if not perfectly nice people with complex lives. June is filled with longing, shame, love, sadness and frustration. Ben thinks he has a happy, joyous marriage and is unaware of June’s pain, body issues, and personal trauma until he reads her diary. There are narrative red herrings, twists and turns, most of them completely necessary. A real fear that something awful might happen fills the air, and moments of awkward humor dot the landscape (like June accidentally bumping Mikey’s head into the head of another baby while fighting with one of her play group rivals). Flashbacks show us how hard it is to deeply love one’s art as well as another person, but the third act denouement does pick the easiest way out of the very thick narrative forest through which the audience has been lead.
This is a hard book to categorize and thus an even harder book to review. It’s definitely worth a read and definitely worth spending your time on. It grabs the reader’s attention and doesn’t let go, even if the ending is a tad on the weak side.
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Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier