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Perpetua's Kin

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The author of the much acclaimed #1 Indie Next Pick The Green Age of Asher Witherow returns with an enthralling historical mystery about a family shaped as much by tumultuous world events as by each of its members' unspoken decisions. Epic in scope and yet intimate in its emotional power, Perpetua's Kin moves across several generations and much of North America, from Pennsylvania and Iowa in the 1820s, through an American south embroiled in Civil War, and finally to World War II San Francisco. What emerges is a profoundly contemporary exploration of the American experience as one family embodies it: our heritage of violence, our chronic restlessness and desire for regeneration through technology, and the impossibility of escaping the history that forms us and, always, demands a reckoning.

336 pages, Paperback

Published September 4, 2018

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About the author

M. Allen Cunningham

18 books37 followers
M. Allen Cunningham published his debut novel The Green Age of Asher Witherow at age 26. Set in nineteenth-century Northern California, The Green Age served as the inaugural title for independent publisher Unbridled Books, was widely acclaimed, was selected by the American Booksellers Association as a #1 Indie Next Pick, was a Finalist for the Indie Next Book of the Year Award in a shortlist with Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, and Joyce Carol Oates' The Falls, was named a “Best Book of the West” in the Salt Lake Tribune, was a USA Today Novel to Watch, and was dubbed a "Regional Classic" by the Mountain & Plains Booksellers Association. Foreword Reviews praised The Green Age as "a feat reminiscent of William Styron's Lie Down in Darkness," and later called Cunningham "one of America's most promising voices." Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler called the novel "a startling accomplishment," and Booklist said it "displays a mastery that is surprising in a novelistic debut." The Green Age was published in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland by Atrium Verlag. Audible released an audio edition in 2014.

Three years after his debut, Cunningham released Lost Son (Unbridled Books), an experimental biographical novel about Rainer Maria Rilke which was the culmination of more than 10 years of reading, writing, research, and travel. Ihab Hassan, one of the 20th century's most distinguished critics, said "the magic of Rilke reach[es] out from every page," and called Lost Son "a subtle and signal imaginative achievement, putting readers on notice: an extraordinary talent has come upon the scene." Lost Son was added to the official Rilke bibliography by a consortium of European scholars. Cunningham was interviewed at length alongside Russell Banks, Michael Cunningham, Anita Diamant, Ron Hansen, Joyce Carol Oates, and Jay Parini for the book Truthful Fictions: Conversations with American Biographical Novelists (Bloomsbury, 2014, ed. Michael Lackey). Lost Son receives in-depth consideration in scholar Zivile Gimbutas' study of 20th-century artist novels entitled Artistic Individuality, where it is featured beside the work of authors Willa Cather, James Joyce, John Updike, and Virginia Woolf. Lost Son was listed as a Top 10 Book of 2007 in The Oregonian, and reviewer Vernon Peterson said "Cunningham's writing is beautiful and fluid. I found myself torn, lingering over passages and yet eager to rush on...But I'm not sure it's right to see Lost Son simply as a fictional biography of Rilke. It is also Cunningham's spiritual autobiography, his own fierce identification with the poet's commitment to art...mesmerizing."

Cunningham has subsequently published six other books, including the novel Perpetua's Kin (2018), a multi-generational story about American restlessness and the residual effects of war that spans most of North America over more than a century. "With Perpetua's Kin," says Pulitzer Prize Finalist Eowyn Ivey, "M. Allen Cunningham once again demonstrates he is one of the bravest and most talented novelists writing today. With each page we gain the greatest gift of fiction: an insight into our own trembling humanity."

Cunningham's shorter work has appeared widely in distinguished literary journals and magazines, and his new book Q&A will appear from Regal House Publishing in January 2021.

He is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of English at Portland State University, an instructor for Clackamas Community College, teaches advanced creative writing for UC Berkeley's ATDP, and has served as a guest lecturer and thesis advisor in the Pan-European MFA Program.

Cunningham hosts the weekly creativity podcast In the Atelier and the atmospheric Thoreau's Leaves

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5 stars
14 (36%)
4 stars
13 (34%)
3 stars
7 (18%)
2 stars
2 (5%)
1 star
2 (5%)
Displaying 1 - 13 of 13 reviews
Profile Image for Birgitta Hjalmarson.
Author 3 books16 followers
October 8, 2018
At the heart of Perpetua’s Kin stands Benjamin Lorn, a young man beset by wanderlust. Minutes before his mother dies, she extracts his promise not to leave Perpetua, the small Midwestern town where he was born. She also asks him to forgive his father, a Civil War veteran, whose bitterness has poisoned the household for as long as Benjamin can recall. Unable to keep his promise, Benjamin finds himself adrift, traversing the continent as a railroad employee but also for reasons so deeply personal that all he can do is flee. As the story builds, language and content merge, a strange kind of beauty even when it deals with the horrors of war. Perpetua’s Kin is everything I hoped it would be, defying time and space like the eerie clicking of a Morse code key.
Profile Image for Jason Arias.
Author 3 books26 followers
January 1, 2019
M. Allen Cunningham has spun a tale that weaves through generations via tight prose and convincing letters. It explores the many ways we are utterly human, or trying to be human, or wondering what it even means to be human. How the dropping of a stone in one specific moment in time can ripple out over lifetimes. How each ring produced from that stone is an individual with a different understanding of its inception and simultaneously only one of many rings in succession.

A timely, ambitious, and provocative novel.
1,303 reviews32 followers
October 20, 2018
This book has two things that I love. History and Mystery. It is very well written and will keep the reader hooked.
Profile Image for Mike.
386 reviews
September 18, 2019
The book is very well written, with a sentimental and soulful touch.....
Profile Image for Amy Doan.
Author 4 books723 followers
November 4, 2019
"'A message comes through,' said Mueller, 'and it falls to us to interpret the whole—all the broken signals as one, yes? We tune ourselves, you might say, to the music entire and not the separate notes. The whole and not the parts. Understand?'"

An absolutely brilliant novel by one of the most gifted fiction writers working today. In this unforgettable twist on Hamlet set against the aftermath of the Civil War, Cunningham examines the wounds of a family & a country. He manages to make his story both sweeping and tender, gripping and unhurried.

From the first haunting scene, I was anxious to know what family secrets Benjamin would find in his hidden packet of letters—and what new life might await him down the miles of his beloved telegraph lines. But I forced myself to slow down and read this when I had time to do it properly. I'm so glad I did, because this is a book to be savored.

Perpetua's Kin is old-fashioned only in the flawlessness of its prose. I loved it.
Profile Image for Dianah.
588 reviews48 followers
July 14, 2018
M. Allen Cunningham writes a gorgeous story of a tangled family history that spans five generations. The Lorn family has secrets buried deeply in their history, but as they seem to always do, these secrets begin to come to light and have a devastating affect upon their unaware descendents. Cunningham is a remarkable writer: his prose is delicate, touching, and lyrical, and his precise wrangling of the English language shines throughout this book. Set partially during the Civil War, and against a backdrop of the new technology known as the telegram, and addressing themes of family, home, truth, war, and love, Perpetua's Kin is an addictive read with fully fleshed characters and a story that won't unclasp it's grip on you.
Profile Image for Theresa Kennedy.
Author 9 books443 followers
January 26, 2019
So, I finally got to finish reading this book, Perpetua's Kin. Wow. So elegant, so lovely, so fucking good.

The way Cunningham uses older syntax and language to create the feeling of a place, flawless. The spare quality of his prose, the elegance, the tight and poetic language used makes this a story that is unforgettable. An exploration into the ways people loved each other, how universal those processes are, but also the different social customs of different times, the social repression, and the secrets people guard. This book is a wonderful exploration into the past lives of people who have gone before us, whose DNA we carry within us...

Why M. Allen Cunningham is not bigger than he is, is really beyond my comprehension. There are lots of good writers in Portland, Oregon. Some of them are even considered legends, (two celebrity women writers come to mind). But so many of these 'legends' who come to mind are quite frankly incredibly over rated. And yet, someone like Cunningham is not as popular. It boggles the mind. I don't get it. And yet, I think I do, too. Politics, social prestige, the unspoken dynamic's of the hidden popularity contests within subcultures.

M. Allen Cunningham is one of about ten of the very best writers in Portland.

The other writers I would include in that small group are...Katherine Dunn, author of GEEK LOVE, Chuck Palahnuik, author of FIGHT CLUB, Molly Gloss, author of JUMP OFF CREEK, Paul Collins, author of countless essays and articles and administrator of The Literary Detective website, Brian Doyle, author of MINK RIVER, Ken Kesey, author of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, Floyd Scloot, author of IN THE SHADOW OF MEMORY, Kevin Sampsell, author of THIS IS BETWEEN US, Ursula Le Guin, author of THE LATHE OF HEAVEN, and Miranda July, author of ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW.

These writers are the best, among many who are good, but sometimes the most well-known writers are not the best, most skilled or profound writers, just the one's who have had the most luck with marketing and publicity. It helps to be white, female and blond, I have found.

Bottom line, I can't say enough about this great book. I will be buying Cunningham's other works as well. He should be more well-known than he is, because his writing is clearly so superior to so many other Portland writers who receive infinitely more newspaper ink. And so it goes...
8 reviews
July 18, 2020
Of course there is a story: a protagonist on a quest, a family saga, the story of a nation written in the blood of people who lived and died in its sway. However, my first reaction upon closing the cover was not to reflect on the stunning resolution of the story but rather to wonder at Mr. Cunningham's artistry as its creator. Writing is hard work. And there are ways in which writers make the task easier on themselves or exponentially harder, much like a competitive diver or gymnast will increase the degree of difficulty in their routine so that when they succeed they set themselves apart from their peers. In every way imaginable, Cunningham amps up this story's tariff: from the story's scope, to the complexity of his characters, to its fidelity to the voice/language of the time, to the specificity of the historical detail, to its layers of plot and, as if merely the cherry on top, to its calling on the ghost of Shakespeare. I was struck by the boldness and literary ambition that inspires Cunningham's work and the lyricism of his writing. From the opening pages, I was aware that I was in the hands of a writer of immense talent. Comparisons are fraught and risk hyperbole, but I am comfortable admitting that John Williams, Michael Ondaatje, and Toni Morrison came to mind. Cunningham is a writer and Perpetua's Kin a book that deserve to be read and admired.
Profile Image for Lori.
1,406 reviews
October 27, 2018
I received a copy of this book from goodreads giveaway. I would give this book an almost four. Perpetua's Kin takes place over 100 years. Perpetua is a small town In Iowa. When Benjamin Lorn's mother is on her death bed she tells him to get some letters from the barn and read them. he reads of a secret kept from him until now. She wants her young son to stay in Perpetua but he wants to travel. Benjamin heads west and works for the telegraph wires. he meets and falls in love still haunted by the secret he finds in the letters. The book goes back and forth to different times. Some during the civil war. part twenty years later when Benjamin is a young adult. And 1944 when Benjamin is in his 80s he has a grown daughter and a grandson named for him. the second world war is starting up and young Benny wants to join. the book reveals the secrets that sent Benjamin leaving his small town and eventually returning. A pretty good read that kept me wanting to find out more about Benjamin and his family's secrets.
Profile Image for Laury A. Egan.
Author 21 books15 followers
March 3, 2020
Before I began reading the book, I was impressed by the beautiful design and production of the paperback--heavy paper and cover and very handsome. As a retired book designer, I see very few of these quality productions from indie publishers. The novel lived up to the book's looks...an outstanding creation, with brilliant characters, a complex time sequence, and stunning writing. Cunningham's research into the historical periods is first-rate and handled with authority. After this, I read his story collection, a paperback which featured French flaps that made me envious! Though not quite as accomplished as "Perpetua's Kin," Cunningham is a very skillful author who put me in mind of Annie Proulx and Kent Haruf, two of my favorites. "Lost Son" is next on my pile. Congratulations to Mr. Cunningham and Atelier 26.
Profile Image for Libba.
315 reviews
September 7, 2022
I liked the tone of the writing--sort of stark in a way that captured the feel of the midwestern setting. And there may have been a story in there somewhere. But the book was structured in such a scattered way -- jumping from one time, place, or character to another -- that it was difficult to follow, and particularly difficult to put the fragments together into a coherent story arc. I could go on with specific failures and flaws, but what would be the point?
49 reviews
January 17, 2019
Unfortunately this book was not for me, I stopped reading about half way through. It was a slow mover, nothing caught my attention to make me want to keep reading. It was difficult to keep track of the characters, and there were too many letters written from one character to another.
Profile Image for Jeanne.
908 reviews
July 26, 2019
A throughly engrossing read. Nothing is ever what it appears...especially when it comes to human behavior.

Displaying 1 - 13 of 13 reviews

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