Book #28 Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham

“All that false exuberance. All those lists of things boiled in one pudding-cloth! No, no! I don’t want all those things inside me, thank you.” — D.H. Lawrence on Walt Whitman

Lately, the bookstore has been receiving incredible amounts of damaged books from publishers due to poor packing. When these books come in, we call the publisher to report the damage and have them send out replacement copies. They then tell us to donate or destroy the books. In our last VHPS shippment, ‘Specimen Days’ came in damaged, and we kindly donated it to a very underpaid overworked bookshop girl to read until the book’s more permanent home of a library could be arranged.

As in Cunningham’s ‘The Hours’, his latest novel is also told in three novellas centered around an author. Instead of Virginia Woolf, it is Walt Whitman. All are set in New York. One a ghost story during the industrial revolution, the second a detective story in modern day post 9/11, and the third a science-fiction tale in the future many years after the earth had to be evacuated due to nuclear fallout. All of the stories center around three characters named Simon, Luke/Lucas, and Catherine/Cat/Catareena. They don’t build on each other as much as one will story will reveal a fact about the first.

Though the similarities between this and The Hours are apparent, they really are not similar books. The authors in which the stories are centered around play completely different roles in each of their respective novels. Whitman verses here are used by the odd, and abnormal, the abused and half-human. His lines are said in uncontrollable bursts with the quoter not fully realizing their meaning or even really wanting to have quoted him in the first place. And although I did not really enjoy this literary device I still quite adored the book. I love Cunningham’s abaility to juxtapose different stories to advance the plot in all of the tales. Even though the three stories have the same themes and motifs, the kind of writing they were differed so drastically that it made them each enjoyable to read.

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