Friday, July 28, 2017

Michael Cunningham - Specimen Days (Harper Perennial, 2006) ***

Mmm ... A strange novel, this one. Three short stories with the same (?) characters but set in three different times, all joined by the verses of Walt Whitman and the relationship between 12-year olds and adults.

"In The Machine", the first story takes place in the 19th century, when a young boy starts working in the factory, at the very machine that killed his older brother, as the only possibility to earn a living. He falls in love with his dead brother's adult girl friend. He is a great fan of Walt Whitman and even speaks only in Whitman verses. The story is dark, bizarre and gripping. You cannot but feel the deepest sympathy with the strange boy and his uncanny interpretation of reality.

"The Children's Crusade" takes place after 9/11. Young boys are recruited to blow themselves up in New York, housed in empty appartments and prepped by an anarchist woman. The policy psychologist unravels the system and gets into contact with one of the boys.

"Like Beauty" is kind of science fiction. An android with a programming mistake - he is too human - escapes from the city (New York) together with a lizard-like alien to a place where they expect a space ship to leave for another planet. Again, the android is programmed with Walt Whitman poetry.

Interestingly enough, it starts all very well. The first story is special and amazing. Then the quality decreases, as do the characters and the writing. Sometimes it's good to know what to publish and what not. If the novel only contained the first story, I would give it a five star rating, so if you're interested, please read it. The two other stories are unfortunately not of the same quality.

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