Roger DeBlanck's Reviews > Specimen Days

Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham
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Jan 25, 2012

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Similar to the strategy he employed in his award-winning novel The Hours, the three distinct narratives in Specimen Days take place in different eras, and they each have a lose association to one another. Drawing upon ideas from the immortal Walt Whitman, whose poetry is noted throughout the novel, the theme of self-sacrifice to save others plays prominently in all three novella-length sections of this multilayered work of fiction. The characters have similar names in each section, which relates them across time. These characters struggle similarly to remain human in the face of inhuman forces that attempt to override them.

In the first section, humans adjust to the industrial advancements of machines. Section two addresses the contemporary disconnectedness of modern man caused by terror and ideology. By section three, humans in the future struggle against the extremes of science. No matter the time period, the characters pursue happiness against the debilitating forces of history and social change. They show compassion to protect and bond in moments of genuine human connection. This novel has an ambitious scope with the first two sections working more successfully in their focus on realism than the rather bland and scattered third section, where Cunningham feels out of his comfort zone with his attempts at the science fiction genre.
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