Leopold turns the volume up as the hail comes down, as if he can drown out its sound, the thudding so loud that Nora worries the windshield will crack and across it a giant web will bloom.
She can see the cracked glass, the fingers spreading across the surface in a slow ripple. She takes a deep breath and tries to imagine something more pleasant. We are a happy couple under a shower of rice, she tells herself. Who knows? Such a moment could be lovely, a silent symphony of smiles.
Leo hasn’t said a word about his grandmother since they got the news. There has been no reminiscing, no look of regret while knotting his black tie that morning. He had merely paused in the foyer before they left. “You okay? I know this is the first—” Nora had stopped him with her eyes. The first, the first. It is all firsts. The first meal at a restaurant since. The first movie since. And now this, coming full circle.
Ten miles of highway behind them, Philly’s skyline lost in the rearview. Leo is relaxed beside her, in pilot mode. He adjusts the dials and knobs and vents, attuned to his instrument. Leo is most at peace like this, filled with the pure act of driving. He would make a happy chauffeur.
Nora leans back against the headrest. There will be no nap; she feels too frazzled. But she sees music when she closes her eyes, and this soothes her.
She has always been able to do this, ever since she was a girl. A better hobby than books because no one knows she’s doing it. No one ever peeks over her shoulder to say, “ ‘The Very Thought of You!’ Is that the Ella Fitzgerald version?”
Black notes float across the white page. It is the opening riff, Ray Noble’s score. The very thought of you / And I forget to do / The little ordinary things / That everyone ought to do.
She can tell how the notes want to play out, how they are hopeful, lifting up, an easy springtime swing. The song is flirty, but she wonders about doing it in B-flat, her voice molasses instead of a bird. Sometimes the thought of someone isn’t delicate, feathered, about to take flight. Sometimes it is a weight, syrupy and thick—
The Sixteenth of June
Leopold Portman, a young IT manager a few years out of college, dreams of settling down in Philly’s bucolic suburbs and starting a family with his fiancée, Nora. A talented singer in mourning for her mother, Nora has abandoned a promising opera career and wonders what her destiny holds. Her best friend, Stephen, Leopold’s brother, dithers in his seventh year of graduate school and privately questions Leo and Nora’s relationship. On June 16, 2004, the three are brought together—first for a funeral, then for an annual Bloomsday party. As the long-simmering tensions between them come to a head, they are forced to confront the choices of their pasts and their hopes for the future.
Clever, lyrical, and often hilarious, The Sixteenth of June is a feat of storytelling and a sharp depiction of modern American family life. It delves into the tensions and allegiances of friendships, the murky uncertainty of early adulthood, and the yearning to belong. This remarkable novel offers a nod to James Joyce's celebrated classic, Ulysses, and it is about the secrets we keep and the lengths we’ll go to for acceptance and love.
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Reading Group Guide
Leopold Portman dreams of settling down in Philadelphia’s bucolic suburbs with his fiancée, Nora. A talented singer in mourning for her mother, Nora has abandoned a promising opera career and wonders what her destiny holds. Her best friend, Stephen, Leopold’s brother, dithers in his umpteenth year of graduate school and privately questions Leo and Nora’s relationship. On June 16, 2004, the three are brought together—first for a funeral, then for an annual Bloomsday party. As the long-simmering tensions between them come to a head, they are forced to confront the choices of their pasts and hopes for the future.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. The Sixteenth of June alternates between Nora’s, Leo’s, and Stephen’s perspectives. Despite the shared narrative, did you feel more closely connected to one of the three?
2. Consider the significance of the characters’ names. Joyce’s Leopold Bloom is a pragmatic hum see more