I knew Michael Cunningham could write a great novel, especially one that could be adapted to the screen, like A Home at the End of the World and The Hours, but I didn’t know how great of a novel he could write! This book definitely belongs in the Top 5 Books I’ve read in 2012. It also counts towards my Mount TBR Challenge and officially puts me over 75% on my 2012 challenges! (It’s also the last book my boss gave me to read almost exactly a year ago.)
This is the story of the Stassos family over three generations and although it starts off slow it’s an amazing read. If you’ve ever read my blog before you know I’m obsessed with characters, especially minor characters, and ttheir portrayal. Although there are very few ‘minor’ characters in this novel it doesn’t matter because this is one of the best novels from a character perspective I’ve ever written. Cunningham somehow got inside his characters heads at all ages and really exposed them. When I started reading, I thought these characters are all crazy, but the more I got to know them and as they grew up I realized that he really wrote the book in such a way that you realize hey I probably had thoughts similar to this but could never in ages figure out how to put them into words.
What I find most humorous about this book is that it forces me to eat my own words. In general I loathe LGBT fiction which highly focuses on the tragedy of being gay or never having a relationships or solely on AIDS. Cunningham included all of this but reversed a lot as well. It’s not the ‘gay’ who gets AIDS, but the drug user; the gay guy finds love, but not where he suspects; and there is tragedy, but it wasn’t what I was expecting; and yes there is parental conflict which reaches a boiling point, but I can overlook that with the other fascinating things he did with this book.
There wasn’t much that I didn’t like about the book. There were of course moments when I despised characters and it definitely took adapting to get used to the way Cunningham presented Zoe and Jamal’s thoughts. However, they are probably two of the most interesting characters. With their obsession of space and being different, you think they’re not normal, but then you realize hey I’ve had thoughts like that too (and Cunningham does that by occasionally showing you the ‘more’ normal characters having a thought like Zoe and Jamal’s).
Recommendation: Read it. It is an incredibly well written and beautiful novel. You have to persevere through the first third, but after that it definitely picks up.
Opening Line: “Constantine, eight years old, was working in his father’s garden and thinking about his own garden, a square of powdered granite he had staked out and combed into rows at the top of his family’s land.”
Closing Line: “‘I can hear them.’” (Whited out.)
“Yes absolutely. I never really wanted to teach Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary. I wanted to be Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary. And really, when nature has elected to provide you with the soul of a tragic diva and the body of a scrawny man who started going bald at twenty-two, well…” (290)