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Specimen Days

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3.54 of 5 stars 3.54  ·  rating details  ·  4,066 ratings  ·  455 reviews
In each section of Michael Cunningham's bold new novel, his first since The Hours, we encounter the same group of characters: a young boy, an older man, and a young woman. "In the Machine" is a ghost story that takes place at the height of the industrial revolution, as human beings confront the alienating realities of the new machine age. "The Children's Crusade," set in t ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published June 7th 2005 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2005)
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Teresa
Apr 10, 2013 Teresa rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Teresa by: James Murphy
Before reading this book, I came across a couple of comments (one that I heard directed to Cunningham himself at the Tennessee Williams Festival in N.O. last month) that addressed Cunningham 'copying' himself, that he was doing here with Whitman what he did with Woolf in The Hours. It is true that each writer has a lot to do with each respective novel, but beyond that I see no similarity.

At the aforementioned literary fest, I heard Cunningham call himself a 'language queen' and then later in the
...more
K.D. Absolutely
American writer who is more known for 1988's Pulitzer awardee for Fiction The Hours, Michael Cummingham (born 1952) first published this book, The Specimen Days in 2005. If The Hours is based on Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, The Specimen Days is based on the Walt Whitman's complete collection of poetry and collected prose bearing the same title.

If there is an award for the most organized and ambitious structure for a trilogy, it has to be this Cunningham work. The reason is that this book is d
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Schmacko
I generally LOVE Michael Cunningham, but I felt he was copying his "literature borrowing" idea from The Hours. He was experimenting with form, but it didn't work for me. Three stories linked to one work - the author shows up in the earliest story - that's what he borrowed from The Hours.

In Specimen Days, Cunningham offers three novels based on Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. In the first novella, set in Victorian NYC, a mentally-challenged factory worker has taken his dead brother's job even a
...more
Annabel Smith
I was surprised and delighted by every element of Specimen Days: the precision and freshness of the language, the startling imagery and metaphors, and the utterly novel way of looking at the world. Because of the beauty of the prose I was expecting a story about nothing but the plot quickly became intensely dramatic and entirely unpredictable.

Every detail is meaningful, not just decorative, and the motifs that link the three stories are subtle and clever. The changes in register - from historic
...more
George
Specimen Days is divided into three sections -- each set in a different time period in New York. A man named Simon, a woman named some variation of Catherine, and a boy named Lucas/Luke appear in each section (rotating who takes the lead in each), and a couple of settings, as well as a minor character or two, also repeat. The poetry of Walt Whitman also threads through the whole book, with Whitman himself actually making a cameo at one point, in the kind of gratuitous appearance that you expect ...more
Xandra
Three novellas set in New York in different centuries, linked by three similar characters (a woman, a man and a disfigured kid), the poetry of Walt Whitman and, why not, a small white bowl. It took me about a year to get through this book, so I can't guarantee that the presence of the bowl doesn't have a deeper signification. If it does, I missed it. Must be a pretty special bowl though, to get through the industrial revolution, present day America, post-apocalyptic alien populated world, and th ...more
James Murphy
I think this is a beautiful novel. Because for me imagination in fiction counts for a lot, I admire this novel very much. In some ways it's a stronger work than I originally thought when I 1st read it a few years ago. This reading, however, I thought the 3d section, "Like Beauty," is weaker than I remembered, making it somewhat less novel, though still very impressive. Specimen Days is 3 novellas built around the model of Dante's Divine Comedy. Each novella uses some of the same elements: names ...more
stephanie
i was SO looking forward to this book, it's kind of ridiculous. i mean, i own the first edition copy, because i BOUGHT it right then.

and then. it was so disappointing. part of it may be personal, but i don't think all of it.

he does (or tries to do) what he did with The Hours, but i think he fails spectacularly. there are three stories, in three separate time periods, and there are things interwoven between each of the stories that links them together. instead of virigina woolf, it's walt whit
...more
Peter
Jun 19, 2007 Peter rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of The Hours and everyone else in the world
A preface: It has been a good long while since I read this book, and whether or not my glowing review is one-hundred percent genuine or I've simply romanticized my enjoyment of it based on my preconceived notions that it was going to be a work of genius and my subsequent recommendations to anyone and everyone I know who likes to read (you know, when the book comes to mind, at any rate), remains to be seen.

And that's not even true, because how could I ever recapture how I felt after reading the
...more
Dale
I haven't done this in a while, but today seems like a good day to bring it back to the fore: I started my current job exactly one year ago, June 18, 2007. I've been doing the Metro commute for a whole year. And today, as the Blue Line train pulled into Crystal City, I finished my sixty-fourth book. (Don't worry, I have number sixty-five with me as well, to start on the commute home. I've gotten pretty good at knowing when I'll finish a book and having backup available.)

I wanted to spread around
...more
Doogyjim
As an admirer of the films of Michael Cunningham's novels (A Home at the End of the World & The Hours) I thought I better get round to actually reading one of his books. Specimen Days sat on my shelf since September of last year when I bought it with an Amazon voucher but for months was ignored as I'd run my finger over the spines looking for my next read. I'd notice it in passing and feel a little sheepish as it sat there, so unassuming with its stark black and white jacket design. Judging ...more
Emmanuel Medina
Alguien que me conozca al menos tres rayitas sabe que mi autor favorito es el señor Cunningham desde que vi la adaptación fílmica de "Las Horas". En este "Dìas Memorables", tres pequeñas novelas o cuentos largos componen un vitral donde el tiempo en sus tres modalidades (el ayer, el hoy y el mañana) son la maquinaría que mueve el espíritu humano: un adolescente empieza a trabajar en una Nueva York industrializada mientras sobrevive a la muerte de su hermano mayor; una detective persigue después ...more
Anthony Panegyres
Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days is composed of three neat novellas, which all contain a twist at the end. In all three there is Lucas (Lucas, Luke and Luke), a small boy, with a weak body and oversized orange-shaped head; and Simon (whose character varies from a deceased brother; to a wealthy collector and seller of antiques; to an android searching for his soul); and Catherine (a street-smart impoverished girl; to Cat, a lit-loving African American detective; to Catareen, a Nadian - a specie ...more
Ekairidium
I knew little of Michael Cunningham’s work (I just knew that he wrote The Hours which was an Academy Award-winning film my parents loved) so I had no fixed expectations. I gave myself four days to finish this book but managed to do so in three days. That’s how captivating it was. Cunningham’s experimental fiction was masterfully told, like a musical composition that rises and falls with the right notes. In Specimen Days, he writes in three genres, dividing the book into three breathtaking novell ...more
Cameron
They say Walt Whitman's beard drew butterflies. This book, I think, would probably draw something far stranger if left out in a field.

A triptych of tightly-wound exercises in genre--a Machine Age ghost story, a whodunnit set in the Patriot Act hysteria of the mid 00s, and a scifi roadtrip through a blighted America featuring lizard people--Specimen Days baffled the hell out of me. Is it an extended meditation on the machinations and strangeness of our bodies? A sly, Marx-friendly comment on how
...more
Casey
Cunningham has written three wildly different genres in Specimen Days, each chaotic and bittersweet in their own way, knit together by the poetry of Walt Whitman. Specimen Days reflects Whitman's celebration of humanity, the awful and the grand, and explores that same subject - the protagonist in the last third of the book is an android, who to me at least seemed the most accessible character out of all of them.

I mean, I'm not going to lie. It's a grim book. There aren't a lot of moments of true
...more
Chip
I have to preface this review by saying this is the first Michael Cunningham novel I have read -- I'm not familiar with "The Hours" nor the movie of the same name (although I do have the Philip Glass soundtrack). With that in mind, read on:

I have just finished "Specimen Days - A Novel" by Michael Cunningham. The book is set in three parts, whereas the first takes place approximately a hundred years in the past, the second in the near present or near future, and the third in the distant future. T
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Lavinia
I never really liked Whitman, but since Cunningham makes him his book’s hero [remember Woolf and The Hours?] he becomes more accessible. Directly or not, he is present in all three parts of the book, being hidden by Cunningham behind the characters that populate a New York from different periods of time [same pattern as The Hours], thus speaking and existing through them. I really liked the first two parts, the third one is S.F. and I’m not quite a fan. In the end, Walt doesn’t seem so impossibl ...more
Mowey
i have read previous novels from Michael Cunningham before, and both i enjoyed so much. it's a blessing reading a novel so profound and moving like The Hours. Flesh and Blood is another thing. it is a product of unadulterated honesty which is the reason why the novel would simply just get to you. if anything, these two novels chronicled the various tragedies and throes of seemingly real individuals. it is the story of our random acquaintances, our family members, our neighbors and friends, ours ...more
Jae
I put off reading this for a while, even though I'd liked The Hours, because the reviews kept dwelling on the science-fiction-y third part and as I'm not a big fan of sci-fi, I thought I wouldn't like it. But I was wrong! This was really beautiful -- the writing was incredible, dizzying at points, dense and lyrical and intense. The book is structured in three thematically linked sections, each set in NYC and inspired in different ways by Whitman's Leaves of Grass. The first section, In the Machi ...more
Nick
Sep 16, 2007 Nick rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: brews before screws
Shelves: fiction
3 stories. Walt Whitman's word bubbling up on the lips of all three protagonists, in all three stories. The same character names rearranged.

1. A kid with an awful life and effectively dead parents in industrial revolution-era NYC laments his dead brother, is eaten by machines, falls in love with a prostitute. Things are so desperate he starts hallucinating.

2. Present day cop realizes her rich white stock broker boyfriend likes her because she's exotic. There's a child terrorist plot. She abducts
...more
Nick
A brilliant exegesis of Walt Whitman, told as three novellas, each with the same set of characters, but in different times and places and situations. If that makes any sense at all to you, you should read this book. Cunningham is a gifted writer; he keeps it simple and spare, except for the flights of Whitmanesque borrowings and interpretations. The result is beautiful, creepy, strange, and haunting.
miriam
This is an intriguing book, awfully well written, which takes a rather novel approach to story telling. The book contains 3 novelettes, representing the same 3 characters in different guise and at different times in history - past, present, and future. I listened to the first 2 on an audiobook, read masterfully by Alan Cummings, and read the 3rd. In each setting, the characters must cope with challenges of their times and struggle with issues of trust, physical and/or mental handicap, and surviv ...more
Brandon
i went to a reception for this book, had never read anything by him, had never seen the movies. sounded like a terrible novel. wanted to shoot myself.

i ran into him in the bathroom and somehow i started telling him about some personal problems, he listened and gave me advice. on that alone, i decided to read the book.

the first story. done, couldn't do it.
the second story. no way.
the third story... the lizard in the future love story with a robot? i thought it was great. i don't even like fantasy
...more
Julie
I recommend this because I think Cunningham stretched here. He took chances- not all of which really work- but I respect the risks. He follows a similar MO to The Hours- taking the works of a famous writer/poet and using an acknowldeged theme to tie together different eras, voices, styles (in the case of Speciman Days, it's Walt Whitman and the theme of welcoming death). What makes the novellas in Specimen Days work for me are the characters- Cunningham creates intense humanity in the most bizar ...more
Jamesy
I have always been a fan of Cunningham, and the 2 occasions I saw him in Chicago I am also a bit lustful of the man! I really love the ease of each section of the book and the ties between them. Walt Whitman is a ghost in the machine of each story. I love the historical vs futuristic timelines. I loved picking this up when I was neatly tucked into bed and catching up with the plotlines, so smooth and easy.
Why hasn't this been made into a TV series or a movie...is Walt Whitman that scary of a sub
...more
Lisa Cook
I had to read this novel for a professional development class on Walt Whitman. I liked this book, but compared to The Hours it felt sort of forced and uninspired. I loved The Hours, and this just felt like a weaker version. Good, but not The Hours good.

This novel is told in three parts: past, present and future. It was an interesting concept; I will definitely give it that. Each story focused on three characters: Simon, Catherine and Lucas - in one form or another. The names would vary and the r
...more
Cindy
Whenever I pick up a Michael Cunningham novel, and more recently one by Louise Erdrich, I feel as though I am immersed in a sacred experience, not, of course in a religious sense, but in a deep and reverential literary one. That is how superlative their writing is. It can be complex and somewhat challenging, but it's always been so rewarding, I'm willing to let go, fall in and allow them take me where they may. And that is definitely the attitude one needs when approaching this book.

I liked this
...more
Grover Lawlis
This was an excellent book. Michael Cunningham already famous for The Hours and Home at the End of the World, both of which have become movies, has written a trilogy, three stories that make up one novel, set in three different time dimensions, present, past, and future with the same three characters with slightly different names that echo themes of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. The theme is the exploitation of beings, some human, some not or not entirely, by"the Man". It is quite beautifully ...more
Stacey
May 09, 2007 Stacey rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Brilliantly conceived and executed. This is a clever work by a gifted writer that maintains a strong running thread throughout and will stay with you for a long time afterwards.
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Michael Cunningham is the author of the novels A Home at the End of the World, Flesh and Blood, The Hours (winner of the Pen/Faulkner Award & Pulitzer Prize), Specimen Days, and By Nightfall, as well as the non-fiction book, Land's End: A Walk in Provincetown. His new novel, The Snow Queen, will be published in May of 2014. He lives in New York, and teaches at Yale University.
More about Michael Cunningham...
The Hours A Home at the End of the World By Nightfall Flesh And Blood The Snow Queen

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“I feel like there's something terrible and wonderful and amazing that's just beyond my grasp. I have dreams about it. I do dream, by the way. It hovers over me at odd moments. And then it's gone. I feel like I'm always on the brink of something that never arrives. I want to either have it or be free of it.” 34 likes
“He wanted to tell her that he was inspired and vigilant and recklessly alone, that his body contained his unsteady heart and something else, something he felt but could not describe: porous and spiky, shifting with flecks of thought, with urge and memory; salted with brightness, flickerings of white and green and pale gold; something that loved stars because it was made of the same substance.” 9 likes
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