A Home at the End of the World

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Home at the End of the World
by Michael Cunningham

A Home at the End of the World is Cunningham’s first novel. The characters are an interesting mix of oddballs and misfits who find solace in the eccentric life they build together. The book has a rotating narrative, moving mainly between Bobby, Jonathan and Claire. The two boys meet when they are young and form a friendship that proves pivotal in both of their lives.

Bobby’s world is filled with tragedies and he becomes attached to Jonathan’s family. As adults, the two boys reconnect in New York City where Jonathan lives with Claire, a bohemian older woman. Jonathan is gay, but the two have discussed raising a child together.

My favorite character in the story is Alice, Jonathan’s mother. In a couple small sections she tells the story from her point-of-view and I loved her voice. She a southern woman, stranded in a Midwestern suburb, trapped in the role of a homemaker. She’s watching her life pass her by, but isn’t sure how to go about changing it.

There’s no denying Cunningham’s skill as a writer. The sentences are rich and beautiful; his descriptions are lush without becoming flowery. My issue is with the characters and plot. We watch them grow, but not really change. They live a strange life that allows them to float through the years, never really maturing. I couldn’t connect with any of them and felt like they were all a bit too naïve or clueless to make it far in the real world.

I read The Hours when I was in college and absolutely loved it. Since then I haven’t been able to find another Cunningham book that I really enjoy. I couldn’t stand Specimen Days, and Land’s End was nothing special. After reading this one, I think I’m going to have to give up and assume that The Hours was a one-off for me and I’m just not a fan of the rest of his work. Skip this one and read The Hours, it’s wonderful.

“We become the stories we tell about ourselves.”


Abby said...

Do you have a post about what you liked about "The Hours"? I respect your opinion, since you read so much, but I detested "The Hours" and couldn't finish it. I think it's because I'm an ardent Woolf fan and Cunningham just came off as a soulless hack.

BookQuoter said...

You always manage to capture in words what I think of a book, although your description of why you could not relate to this one was my description for how I felt with the only book I have read of his - the Hours. I liked it but I felt that I needed more.

Sandy Nawrot said...

He does have a good reputation but I have heard some less than glowing stuff about his books. I'd always had The Hours on my list for the movie tie-in, so perhaps I just need to stick with that. Appreciate your honesty!

Greg Zimmerman said...

From what I've heard of Cunningham - including your great review here - and what I've read myself (only By Nightfall, which I didn't much care for), I think you're right: Cunningham may be a bit of one-hit wonder. I'm interested to try that one hit - The Hours - just to see if I even believe that much is true. ;)

Julia said...

I wish I had time to read all of the books you recommend! And even the ones you only sort of recommend, because your comments are so insightful that I want to experience for myself what you're describing. You're helping me build my list....

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Abby - I wish I did but I read The Hours in 2003, long before I was blogging. I also think my taste was different back then. I was reading more chick lit and so I think I was a bit more easily impressed by wonderful prose than I am now. I had only read Mrs. Dalloway by Woolf and so I'm sure I would have felt differently about the book if I'd been a huge Woolf fan.

This is one line I loved from The Hours: "She sips her coffee, sets it down, stretches her arms. This is one of the most singular experience, waking on what feels like a good day, preparing to work but not yet actually embarked. At this moment there are infinite possibilities, whole hours ahead. Her mind hums."

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

BookQuoter - I often wonder about how I would feel about books if I reread them now. It's been almost a decade since I read that one.

Sandy - I thought the movie was good too!

Greg - I'm always disappointed when I find a book I love, but nothing else by the author works for me.

Julia - Thank you! That's the whole reason I love blogging. I love being able to recommend books and find new ones to read from others' recommendations. It's such a wonderful community.

Teacher/Learner said...

I also love The Hours. It's too bad that no other Cunningham books appeal. Isn't that strange? I haven't given any others a shot myself. Must be one of those "one hit wonder" authors, but (unlike some OWO music) a good one ;)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Teacher/Learner - Glad I'm not the only one who liked The Hours, but I wouldn't recommend anything else I've read of his.