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Specimen Days

Average Rating 4.5
( 14 )
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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2006

    R Pesch Review Assignment

    In writing Specimen Days Michael Cunningham has produced a great work of fiction on multiple levels. On the surface Cunningham provides an entertaining storyline, uniquely supported and intriguing in its originality. However, on a deeper level the novel contains a thought-provoking theme, which continues through all three stories and furnishes commentary on the ideas of Walt Whitman, while the masterful manipulation of setting enhances every aspect of Cunningham¿s ideas. Cunningham initially utilizes the setting of the industrial revolution to introduce the topic upon which he focuses the entire novel: the poetry of Walt Whitman¿s Leaves of Grass. This is extremely effective because he is able to recreate the environment about which Whitman originally wrote. The poetry provides a strong foundation of ideas that Cunningham returns to throughout the novel, and through his manipulation of the setting, he shows the enduring nature Whitman¿s ideas. Cunningham¿s manipulation of the setting occurs not in place, but in time, jumping from the 19th century to just after the present to the distant future. Throughout these three times the location remains Manhattan, and further unification achieved by using the poetry of Whitman, which ties the time periods together with a single theme. The theme is a set of ideas presented in Leaves of Grass, which concentrate mainly on machinery and technology and encourage a return to basic ideals while lauding the marvels of nature. The novel accomplishes its tasks flawlessly, drawing the reader in with strong characters, then reintroducing the characters in each story so as not to lose any rapport the reader may have formed and to further unify the separate books. Through the passage of time Cunningham deeply and movingly investigates the constancy of the topics highlighted by Whitman¿s poetry, skillfully drawing all the ideas together through manipulation of the setting.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2005

    Good book

    I really enjoyed reading this book. I could not put it down all weekend and it brought me to tears. I look forward to reading more of his work

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2005

    A Rare Specimen of Literature

    Specimen Days is Michael Cunningham at his best, once again. This novel is really three novelettes about three characters. All three are moving, beautiful and lyrical. One story nearly brought me to tears. The characters become very real, very human. Everything in this novel is layered, woven together like a rich blanket. The book itself is a quick read but you will not want to finish it quickly.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2005

    Stil amazing....

    Michael Cunningham uses words the way Maria Calla used sound and the way Van Gogh used color. His follow-up fictional novel after winning his Pulitzer Prize from The Hours is nothing short of what we expect from this lyrical writer. Cunningham has set out to create his own style of 3 layered writing and he has, yet again, succeeded. I am consitstanly amazed at the creation of his words and how musically charged they become. Its like reading an undiscovered Frost poem in the shape of a novel, Clearly, to me, and many others, one of America's greatest living authors.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2005

    Themes and Variations: Making Poetry of the Past, the Present, the Future

    Michael Cunningham possesses a mind rich in imagination, musical in nature, poetic in style, and mesmerizingly addictive in product. SPECIMEN DAYS should not be compared with any other work either by Cunningham or other authors writing in one of the three genres this book embraces. It is one of a kind and appreciating and celebrating that unique stance is the secret of finding its core significance.SPECIMEN DAYS takes place over a span of approximately three hundred years and in doing so it avoids chronology that would make it 'historical fiction', linear writing that would suggest a magnum opus novel, and fabrication of language or place that would imitate science fiction. The stories are three in number, individually named, able to stand solely on their own: this could be three novellas in collection. But Cunningham challenges us to find the threads of similarity, the permutations of seeds planted in the first pages that stretch and grow through the entire book, and he does this with the glue of the poetry and presence of Walt Whitman whose words 'It avails not, neither time or place...I am with you, and know how it is' are graciously quoted on the cover flap.The constants are in the characters' names of Catherine (or Cat or Catareen), Lucas (or Luke), Simon the fragments of Whitman's poetry from 'Leaves of Grass' which emanate from the lips of a lad or a child or a programmed humanoid a small decorated bowl that surfaces almost like a spirit in each story. How Cunningham weaves these simple aspects into three wildly different tales form different times is not only amazingly fine but also stimulating to the reader's eyes and spirit.A story about the downtrodden poor of the industrial revolution in New York City and how love can encourage unimaginable sacrifices progresses to post-9/11 Manhattan where like named characters respond to the humanism of the sacrifices of terrorism which in turn progresses into a completely imagined future when man's greed and drive to conquer space, has superceded caring for earth's mankind and resulted in intergalactic travel mixing the populations of two planets in the remains of a discarded Old New York. And when a robotic humanoid from this last place asks his creator about his existence, the designer says 'I gave you poetry...To regulate you. To eliminate the extremes...I could program you to be helpful and kind, but I wanted to give you some moral sense as well...I thought that if you were programmed with the work of great poets, you'd be better able to appreciate the consequences of your actions.'Of Whitman's poetry Cunningham introduces in each story the lines 'What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.' And for this reader therein lies the magical beauty of this strange but enormously successful book. Cunningham's way with words is luminously simple: 'It seemed possible. It did not seem possible'. And with his writing gifts he has created another wonder. Grady Harp

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2005


    When in 1989 Alan Cumming made his debut in London and was nominated Most Promising Newcomer in the Olivier Awards there must have been prescience at work as it wasn't long before he took Broadway by storm as the Emcee in 'Cabaret' and carried home a Tony. This stellar performance also garnered him the Drama Desk Award and the Outer Critics Circle Award. There have been many imitations of his portrayal but none to equal. The same may easily be said of his film roles which include Golden Eye, Eyes Wide Shut, and others. He is kept busy as a stand-up comedian, and writes for the BBC. Thank goodness that from time to time he turns his mega talent to reading audio books. Many will remember his outstanding renderings of 'The Conch Bearer' and 'Anil's Ghost.' Now, his superlative voice performance adds luster to a literary gem. What more praise can we heap upon Michael Cunningham's 'Specimen Days'? The author once again offers an other worldly, eerie tale that probes our sensibilities just as it intrigues. It is the story of Manhattan, not as we know it today but what it once might have been and what it might be in the future. Divided into three sections, the novel opens with 'In The Machine,' set in the Industrial Revolution. This is followed 'The Children's Crusade,' a look at the 21st century and the effects of terrorism. Some 150 years from today is seen in the final section, 'Like Beauty.' A remarkable listening experience - highly recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2009

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