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Specimen days
Michael Cunningham
Adult Fiction CUNNING

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From Publishers' Weekly:

Engaging Walt Whitman as his muse (and borrowing the name of Whitman's 1882 autobiography for his title), Cunningham weaves a captivating, strange and extravagant novel of human progress and social decline. Like his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Hours, the novel tells three stories separated in time. But here, the stage is the same (the "glittering, blighted" city of Manhattan), the actors mirror each other (a deformed, Whitman-quoting boy, Luke, is a terrorist in one story and a teenage prophet in another; a world-weary woman, Catherine, is a would-be bride and an alien; and a handsome young man, Simon, is a ghost, a business man and an artificial human) and weighty themes (of love and fear, loss and connection, violence and poetry) reverberate with increasing power. "In the Machine," set during the Industrial Revolution, tells the story of 12-year-old Luke as he falls in love with his dead brother's girlfriend, Catherine, and becomes convinced that the ghost of his brother, Simon, lives inside the iron works machine that killed him. The suspenseful "The Children's Crusade" explores love and maternal instinct via a thrilleresque plot, as Cat, a black forensic psychologist, draws away from her rich, white and younger lover, Simon, and toward a spooky, deformed boy who's also a member of a global network committed to random acts of terror. And in "Like Beauty," Simon, a "simulo"; Catareen, a lizard-like alien; and Luke, an adolescent prophet, strike out for a new life in a postapocalyptic world. With its narrative leaps and self-conscious flights into the transcendent, Cunningham's fourth novel sometimes seems ready to collapse under the weight of its lavishness and ambition-but thrillingly, it never does. This is daring, memorable fiction. Agent, Gail Hochman. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

From Library Journal:

In this follow-up to his Pulitzer Prize- winning The Hours, Cunningham offers another dazzling tour de force that examines the intimate ways in which the past is woven into the present and future. Where in The Hours Virginia Woolf was the guiding spirit, here Walt Whitman acts as the characters' Virgil, steering them through the vicissitudes of their lives. In "In the Machine," the first of three interrelated tales set in New York City, 13-year-old Lucas, who almost involuntarily spouts lines of Whitman's verse, confronts grief and the ambiguity of love as he tries to take his dead brother Simon's place. The setting, the Industrial 1920s, melds into the early 21st century in the second tale, "The Children's Crusade," in which African American police detective Cat investigates a band of Whitman-quoting children terrorizing the city. In the futuristic final story, "Like Beauty," an android with Whitman's poetry implanted in his circuits embarks on a journey with a young boy named Luke to meet his manufacturer. In addition to the Whitman thread, a mysterious china bowl also shows up in each tale. Though "Like Beauty" feels more contrived than the other tales, Cunningham's vivid prose captures the intricate weave of love and expectation that propels the hopes of one generation as it fades into another. The author's many fans have been eagerly anticipating this novel, so all libraries should own it. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/05.]-Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Lancaster, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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