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.
Walt said that the dead turned into grass, but there was no
grass where they'd buried Simon. He was with the other Irish on the far side of
the river, where it was only dirt and gravel and names on stones.
Catherine believed Simon had gone to heaven. She had a locket with his picture and a bit of his hair inside.
"Heaven's the place for him," she said. "He was too good for this world." She looked uncertainly out the parlor window and into the street, as if she expected a glittering carriage to wheel along with Simon on board, serene in his heedless milk-white beauty, waving and grinning, going gladly to the place where he had always belonged.
"If you think so," Lucas answered. Catherine fingered the locket. Her hands were tapered and precise. She could sew stitches too fine to see.
"And yet he's with us still," she said. "Don't you feel it?" She worried the locket chain ...
About This Guide
The following author biography and list of questions about Specimen Days are intended as re-sources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this novel. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach Specimen Days.
About This Book
Specimen Days, the much anticipated follow-up to Michael Cunningham's award-winning inter-national bestseller The Hours, reconfirms the author's daring imagination and storytelling gifts. Comprised of three thematically linked novellas, Specimen Days is both inspired by, and an homage to, American visionary ...
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...
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