Friday, November 21, 2008

Speciman Days by Michael Cunningham

This is another book that I read before I was in the Bowels of Hell. I don't remember much about it other than enough to know that I'm glad I don't remember much about it. After his complex, wonderful novel The Hours, which borrows from his literary predecesors and upon which one of my favorite movies is based, Cunningham makes another adempt to follow it up by once again weaving three distinct narratives together through heavy use of motif.

In this instance, however, he fails.

Maybe the circumstances of this novel were just too strange for me. The first story is set during the Industrial Age, when a young boy is haunted by his dead brother through the noises he hears in the machines all around him. The last story is set at some point in the (near?) future, when aliens have made their place on earth, amongst humans and human-like machines. Weird. Maybe I'm just under-exposed to sci-fi. However, Cunningham doesn't exactly shine when he tries to do normal either, because the middle story, the one set in current day and arguably the most down-to-earth, as it were, is completely forgetable because, well, I've forgotten it. There was something about a female cop and a young boy in trouble. The cop tries to save the young boy but takes it too far and runs away with him; at that point, it goes back to wierdness, but that's at the end of the story.

Weirdness isn't necessarily the noose around a novel's neck - I like weird, just not this weird. For example, I couldn't buy into the relationship that develops between the android and the alien in the final story. I couldn't feel the young boy's pain in the beginning when he thought his brother's spirit was, literally, in the machine that killed him.

The stories are connected through the motif of machinery, but the only other tie that binds is weirdness. It went from weird, to wierder, to wierdest.

But because of Michael's previous work, I feel almost guilty saying that, like maybe I'm just not getting it. Maybe it's actually brilliant. I dunno. Anyway; - 2 stars


Amanda said...

You know, I really hated The Hours the book. I mean, it's my favorite movie of all time, but I thought the book was poorly written and fell flat. Perhaps that was because I'd seen the movie first and had such high expectations for the book - this is, I think, the only instance in which I've ever liked the movie more than the book. Because the movie was so great, I went into the book thinking it would be brilliant, and it wasn't. I thought it was underwritten. But again, maybe that was just my disappointment. In any case, I've never thought to try another Cunningham book, and after this review, I'm glad I haven't.

Shelley said...

Wow, that does sound pretty bizarre! I liked The Hours, especially how well he captured the despondence of the housewife (I don't even remember her name, just something about making a cake?) I did also like the weaving of the stories together. I have not seen the movie--it sounds like a must-see.
I am somewhat intrigued by this other one though.

Amanda said...

Laura Brown was her name.

It is a spectacular movie. And the three plots weave around every bit as intricately as in the book, which is uncommon for film. There were so many correlations that for some reason, after my first viewing, I remembered ones that it turns out weren't there at all! Funny stories about that; too long for a comment...haha!