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Specimen Days: A Novel

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  5,106 Ratings  ·  540 Reviews
A highly anticipated, bold new novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hours—three linked visionary narratives set in the ever-mysterious, turbulent city of New York

In each section of Michael Cunningham’s new book, we encounter the same group of characters: a young boy, an older man, and a young woman. “In the Machine” is a ghost story which takes place at the
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Published June 15th 2005 by Macmillan Audio (first published 2005)
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J. Kent Messum
I don’t know what it is about this novel, but I'm convinced there is some kind of magic weaved into the pages. I found it to be a captivating read, extremely well written, and certainly thought provoking.

'Specimen Days' is made up of three different novellas set in New York City that are separated by time (past, present, future) but deal with themes of society, humanity, and what happens when abnormality threatens the fabric of civility. They stand alone as individual stories, but are also conn
Apr 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
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
Aug 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to TL by: looking for audiobooks on amazon narrated by Alan Cumming
Shelves: favorites
Read via audiobook and hardcover

In the Machine - 4.5 stars
Children's Crusade - 4.5 stars
Like Beauty - 4.5 stars

Alan Cumming's narration = <3 5 stars :)

This is a series of inter-connected stories that feature the same souls but in different roles and circumstances. A man named Simon, a boy named Luke, and a woman named Catherine/Catareen.

Each story has it's own feel and vibe but at the same time you can sense this thread connecting everything.. not sure of where it leads bu
K.D. Absolutely
Dec 18, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: horror
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
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
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
May 01, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
João Roque
Michael Cunninhgam nunca nos deixa indiferentes.
Neste seu livro ele conta-nos três histórias diferentes, bastante espaçadas no tempo, mas com alguns pontos comuns - Nova Yorq, Walt Withman e uma singela tigela...
A primeira história é triste, cinzenta e reflecte muito bem a era da industrialização, nos finais do século XIX; o poder da máquina é total e o ser humano a ela é subjugado.
Na segunda, aquela que mais perto está dos nossos dias, vemos todo o efeito que hoje continua ou mesmo se acelera d
Nov 05, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Anthony Panegyres
Oct 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spec-fic, fiction
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
Jun 04, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
James Murphy
Dec 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 06, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Julie Christine
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
Mar 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Specimen Days" shares its title with a collection of notes and essays written by Walt Whitman, as close as he ever came to an autobiography. It was published near a time Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" was re-issued, 'Leaves' being his masterwork poem which celebrated mankind and nature, and addressed the eternal cycle of life. During this time New York was becoming a major city, and symbolized for Whitman the growth of modern America. Whitman also did his own version of 'Lighting out for the terri ...more
May 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a very intriguing work; I am not totally certain how I felt about all the disparate elements. This novel is built of three novellas/long short stories titled "In the Machine", "The Children's Crusade", and "Like Beauty" each of which had a distinct tone and "genre" and featured a cast of three main characters: a man named Simon, a woman with a name that is a variant of Catherine, and a boy with a variant of Luke. The characters are not really the same individuals, but are clearly meant ...more
Jul 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
why does michael cunningham hate happy endings though!!!!

i honestly loved this book?? i think the middle bit was my favourite i love what he did with cat. the whole theme of whitman is amazing + a really nice touch. idk i loved how abstract it was like are they souls? are we all just living different realities time and time and time again? is that why some new people feel familiar, because we've lived infinite lifetimes and shared them with souls?

also the whole concept of old new york was AMAZIN
Aug 04, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Terry Pearce
Jul 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really had no idea, about Michael Cunningham or Walt Whitman. Now I do. Each of these three linked novellas is beautiful. Together, they're transcendant. The prose is arresting. The use of Whitman's verse in the story is deft. The playful links throughout, from story to story, character to character, Whitman's world to Cunningham's, evoke the interconnectedness of, well, everything, the way Whitman himself seems to. Bold stuff, amazingly well done.
Marianna Monaco
Sep 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, friendship
3 love stories, strangely linked, a satisfying ending
Marwan Hamed
Apr 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
الموتى يستحيلون عشبا.
صاحب رواية الساعات الشهيرة طلع مجنون كبير.
أعظم رواية عن امريكا.
تلت عصور والتغيير واختفاء الهوية ومعالم الحضارة والإنسانية. واوراق العشب تتحرك.
من عصور قديمة لأليين.
فنتازيا خارقة القوة خيال مرعب جدا.
اسلوب عذب. استخدم والت ويتمان بشكل رهيب علشان يبين أفكاره الكتير.
غيره الحداثة ما بعدها الحب اقصى درجات التقدم.
صراع الإنسان والتقدم..الحب القوى.
الرواية استحالت عشبا. اسقاطات دين.
الطاس وشعر ويتمان وصورته تلاحقنا
مبهرة فشخ.
الحب والشعر هما اللي باقيين.
Oct 04, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 24, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 03, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2007, fiction
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
Jul 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi-fantasy
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
Nov 02, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Three different stories addressing New York in three different genres and centuries. At first I wasn't impressed by "In the Machine," the first third, the historical novel portion, because it touched on Whitman and James Joyce without leaving much of an impact or making sense of these references.

But it really can't stand alone; maybe none of the sections can, although starting out of order might be an interesting idea if you want to get more out of "In the Machine."

The ways the three stories co
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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.
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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.” 41 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.” 14 likes
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