In each section of Michael Cunningham's bold new novel, his first
since The Hours, we encounter the same group of characters: a
young boy, an older man, and a young woman. "In the Machine" is a
ghost story that takes place at the height of the industrial
revolution, as human beings confront the alienating realities of the
new machine age. "The Children's Crusade," set in the early
twenty-first century, plays with the conventions of the noir thriller
as it tracks the pursuit of a terrorist band that is detonating bombs,
seemingly at random, around the city. The third part, "Like Beauty,"
evokes a New York 150 years into the future, when the city is all but
overwhelmed by refugees from the first inhabited planet to be
contacted by the people of Earth.
Presiding over each episode of this interrelated whole is the
prophetic figure of the poet Walt Whitman, who promised his future
readers, "It avails not, neither time or place . . . I am with you,
and know how it is." Specimen Days is a genre-bending,
haunting, and transformative ode to life in our greatest city and a
meditation on the direction and meaning of America's destiny. It is a
work of surpassing power and beauty by one of the most original and
daring writers at work today.
Bookpage - Robert Weibezahl Specimen Days is really three individually compelling stories that together form something greater. Cunningham's audacious eye, his ability to hone an unexpected image from an unlikely source, is in sharp focus, and the prowess he showed in The Hours for getting inside his character's heads is still in evidence.
Vanity Fair - Elissa Schappel
[Walt Whitman's] boundless spirit . . . imbues Specimen Days with a sense of wonder and magic.
A smashing literary tour de force and an utterly invigorating reading experience. If this book does not make you jump up from the sofa, looking at life and literature in new ways, check to see if you have a pulse.
Starred Review. Engaging Walt Whitman as his muse, Cunningham weaves a captivating, strange and extravagant novel of human progress and social decline. .... This is daring, memorable fiction.
Booklist - Donna Seaman
Starred Review. Brilliantly conceived, empathic, darkly humorous, and gorgeously rendered, Cunningham's galvanizing novel [is] about the quest for justice and freedom, the parameters of the soul, the hunger for beauty, and the fluid interface between the natural and the engineered.
Kirkus Reviews - Bruce Allen
The use of several recurring images (an ornamental white bowl, a fire in a sewing machine factory) and Whitman's visionary idealism superbly underscore a symphonic poem of sorrow, loss, survival - and hope: Cunningham's finest novel, and one of the important literary achievements of the new century.
O, the Oprah magazine - Vince Passaro
With imaginative daring and sentiment hardened by intellect and pain, Cunningham constructs three tales of New York...This is an astonishing accomplishment and the best book Cunningham has written.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Christie This book is amazing! This book was very interesting. I could not put it down. It just got more and more interesting. I wasn't expecting half of the things that happened. I recommend it to everyone!
Walter Whitman (1819-1892) was born in Long
Island, New York where his father worked as a carpenter and farmer. He was
educated in Brooklyn until the age of 12, after which he left school to work as
an office boy, and soon after as a printer's assistant. During the next few
years he contributed articles to newspapers (including some of the earliest
coverage of baseball games) and taught in various schools. In 1838 he founded,
and was the first editor of, the Huntington based Long Islander newspaper (which
still exists today). He continued to educate himself by attending the opera,
theatre and through copious reading, and also found time to edit a couple of
other newspapers including the Brooklyn Eagle, from which he was
dismissed in 1848 because of his outspoken views on slavery.
By 1848 he was writing poetry in earnest. He self published his first volume of
twelve poems in 1855 in Leaves of Grass. It was not well received - his
free-flowing style, personal subject-matter and...
Both convincing in its portrayal of the collective madness America went through after the carnage of the Civil War, and otherworldly in its contemplation of obsessive grief and longing, Gob's Grief is at once an announcement of a major talent, and an extraordinary achievement in literary art.
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