Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Specimen Days

I just finished reading Michael Cunningham's new novel Specimen Days. It's a remarkable book, full of many layers and goregously crafted characters and beautiful writing, as is expected from the author of The Hours and A Home at The End of the World. The book is divided into three parts, three novellas really, one taking place during the Industrial Revolution, one in contemporary New York in the age of Terrorism, and one in the future. Cunningham has blended together three seperate storylines again, yet this narrative does not overlap in quite the same way that the characters of various timelines overlap in The Hours. Unlike those characters who are bound together by their gender, their inability to find a reason to live, and Virginia Woolf, the characters of Specimen Days are bound together through time and space, possibly reincarnation, poetry, poised upon the brink of world change, and Walt Whitman. The weakest of the storylines is the first one, unfortunately, a ghost story in which it seems Cunningham is not entirely comfortable in that it's pretty predictable for a ghost story, old fashioned in many ways, not taking any chances to use the ghost story form in a new way. But despite this, it's still well-written and enjoyable. The second section is a sort of thriller/suspense story set in a New York City where mysterious terrorist murders are occurring. The characters here leap off the page, the narrative is surprising at every turn of its plot, and by the end of this section I was left with my mouth hanging open, in shock and terror myself. The third section is science fiction set in an environmentally blasted future. There are moments when Cunningham feels awkward with science fiction as well, but he recovers more readily and quickly here than in the ghost story narrative, and eventually even settles in quite nicely to deliver a wonderful, satisfying ending. I recommend this book to literary and genre readers alike. It has wonder and strangeness and spin and fascinating characters and plots and beautiful structures and prose. Enough to satisfy almost any reader.

4 Comments:

Blogger Elad said...

sounds interesting. I was curious about this book but unsure for some reason. with my current budget, it was probably the best decision as I'll wait till paperback. thanks a lot for posting this review, chris! i'll put it on my to-read list.

11:24 AM  
Blogger Jody D. White said...

Can I borrow it next time I see ya? PLEASE!!!!!!!

love ya, miss ya,
Jody

12:31 AM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Of course!

love ya, miss ya too

12:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only time I actually met Cunningham was at a KGB reading maybe six years ago, around the time THE HOURS had come out. Terry Bisson was curating a series of readings that paired a Spec Fiction with a non-Spec Fiction writer. Rachel Pollock was the other reader and Cunningham afterwards talked about how fascinating he found Science Fiction and sounded like he had, maybe, just discovered it.

Rick

1:51 AM  

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