Live most of the people who ever read anything of Michael Cunningham's, the Excerpt Reader's read his Pulitzer-winning 4th novel, The Hours, back in 1999 and went to see the movie, directed by Stephen Daldry, when it made its appearance in 2002.
The 2003 film won the Oscar for Nicole Kidman of all actresses (ER thought Julianne Moore did a better job at her role than Nicole, but there you go..) On a side note, Daldry later on directed The Reader (2008), which was also an impressing film, especially due to Ralph Feinnes' acting, and he is intended to direct Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay in the very near future, if the film ever escapes 'development hell')
The Hours was a very good read, even if not revolutionary in any way. The inspiration for the novel, as well as one of the strongest motifs therein, is Virgiania Wolfe's Mrs. Dalloway.
I'm not sure whether Cunningham had anything 'new' to say in it (as all 'great' novels should do) but the writing and tempo (a very important parameter in a novel that's presuming to talk about any aspect in Time) were quite good, and almost all 3 interwoven & intertwined stories (Mrs. Dalloway, Mrs. Brown, Mrs. Wolf) were exceptionally moving in their ways.
The Hours basically established Cunningham as a "major American writer." He waited a good 7 years before releasing Specimen Days in 2005 yet another novel featuring three stories: one that takes place in the past, one in the present and one in the future (well, in The Hours, two stories took place in the past, one in the present..) As in Hours, so in Specimen Days, a famous literary persona and its work catalyze the different narratives and intersect between them. This time it's Walt Whitman (the book's title is borrowed from Whitman..)
So much for similarities.. Other than the above-mentioned traits, the books are quite different: Hours basically follows the events transpiring in during a single day in 3 women's lives. Days tracks 3 stories quite different from each other, all transpiring in New York: the first takes place in during the Industrial Revolution, as human beings confront the alienating realities of the new machine age; the second is set in early twenty-first century as it tracks the pursuit of a terrorist band that is detonating bombs, seemingly at random, around the city; the third is a futuristic Science Fiction story, set 150 years into the future, wherein New York City is overwhelmed with refugees from the first inhabited planet to be contacted by the people of Earth.
The book was met with good critique but I'm not sure how it was liked by readers.. I know I felt like Cunningham thought was ‘on to’ something here and was taking us for a ride along with him..
But back to the present.
This week Cunningham's releasing By Nightfall, "a bittersweet paean to human creativity," a crepuscular tale of Marriage & Boredom which relates the lives of Peter Rebecca, SoHo art dealer & mid-level art magazine editor. In comes Rebecca's younger brother, Ethan, 20 something recovering drug addict and ruins everything, so to speak.. Or does he??
'Hailed' as "emotionally static and drearily conventional" by Amazon editors (aren't these people supposed to promote every book and pray to sell as many copies of it as they possibly can?? And on it goes: "Cunningham's sentences are, individually, something to behold, but they're unfortunately pressed into the service of a dud story about a well-off New Yorker's existential crisis.") the Excerpt Reader should automatically be inclined to warn his readers lest they befall such a dreary read as well..
But I will do no such thing. For, having read an excerpt of the aforementioned novel, I am inclined to decree that I deem this cery readable, page-turner-of-a-novel a worthy read.
VERDICT: BUY IT (But only because, deep inside, you're not too amorous with your own condition and are constantly looking for the way out.. Hence you are reading!)