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Flesh and Blood

Flesh and Blood

4.3 18
by Cunningham

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From the bestselling author of The Hours and Specimen Days comes a generous, masterfully crafted novel with all the power of a Greek tragedy.

The epic tale of an American family, Flesh and Blood follows three generations of the Stassos clan as it is transformed by ambition, love, and history. Constantine Stassos, a Greek immigrant, marries Mary


From the bestselling author of The Hours and Specimen Days comes a generous, masterfully crafted novel with all the power of a Greek tragedy.

The epic tale of an American family, Flesh and Blood follows three generations of the Stassos clan as it is transformed by ambition, love, and history. Constantine Stassos, a Greek immigrant, marries Mary Cuccio, an Italian-American girl, and they have three children, each fated to a complex life. Susan is oppressed by her beauty and her father's affections; Billy is brilliant, and gay; Zoe is a wild, heedless visionary. As the years pass, their lives unfold in ways that compel them--and their parents--to meet ever greater challenges.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The cheers that greeted his literary debut, A Home at the End of the World, will resound again for Cunningham's second novel. Here his prose is again rich, graceful and luminous, and he exhibits a remarkable maturity of vision and understanding of the human condition. The marriage of Greek immigrant Constantine to Mary, the offspring of an Italian clan, is a mismatch of incompatible personalities, a union that is later maintained in a delicate balance between incomprehension and rage. The birth of their three children exacerbates the tension and leaves its indelible mark unto the third generation. When he becomes a partner in a shoddy construction company, Con lifts the Stassos family from near-poverty in Elizabeth, N.J., to a nouveau-riche enclave on Long Island, but his lifelong concern with money, and with exhibiting ``manliness,'' erupts into violent behavior that alienates his only son, Billy, even before the boy realizes that he is a homosexual. Con damages the other children, too; Susan escapes his sexual overtures through an early marriage, and wild, feral Zoe joins the drug culture in New York. Yet Cunningham condemns no one; he understands that Con ``exists in a chaos of yearning . . . [of] love and... hunger and... bottomless grief,'' and he portrays the other characters with equal sympathy. In delineating the story of this disconnected family, each member floating in his or her own sphere of bewilderment, anger, mistrust and fear but inextricably bound to others by flesh and blood, Cunningham illuminates the chasm between parents and children in contemporary America, beginning in the 1970s, when drug use and sexual freedom broke traditional constraints. Both fate and accident determine all of the characters' lives. Con betrays beautiful, distant Mary with his partner's fat, plain secretary-and ends up married to her. Mary becomes friends with Cassandra, a drag queen who is the godmother of Zoe's illegitimate half-black son. Billy renames himself Will, and finally finds a loving companion. All the characters are fallible and come late to self-knowledge. Cunningham's portraits are so honest and sensitive that we can see into their souls. His prose is both restrained and mesmerizing: individual scenes-such as one of teenagers in a car wreck-become incandescent images. In the end, what remains of Con and Mary's failed dreams of their lives and those of their children and grandchildren becomes a transcendent testament to the power of human endurance. 75,000 first printing; movie rights optioned by Tony Ganz/Wolf Productions; author tour. (Apr.)
Library Journal

Cunningham offers a big, sprawling drama that follows three generations of the Stassos family, from 1958 to 2035. The 1995 novel garnered some impressive reviews for its handling of the immigrant experience and the later generations' rejection of their ancestors' ways.

—Michael Rogers
Donna Seaman
Family defines us, one way or another. In Cunningham's empathic and searing family drama, the haphazardness of genetics and fate plays in mocking counterpart to the predictability of heartache. Author of the widely acclaimed novel "The Home at the End of the World" (1990), Cunningham is a tenacious and word-perfect writer with acute insight into the eccentricity of personalities and the chemistry of intimate relationships. He stretches this sorrowful saga across an entire century, beginning in 1935 in Greece, where a boy suffers poverty and neglect. Constantine Stassos eventually immigrates to the U.S., where he marries a lovely and industrious young woman, amasses a fortune, and turns his attractive home into a living hell. No one goes unscathed, from his suffocating wife, Mary, through his self-negating eldest daughter, his acerbic gay son, and his younger daughter, Zoe, a strangely feral child. As the years go by and abrupt social changes become the rack upon which families are wrenched and broken, each member of the Stassos clan struggles to achieve love and respect. Cunningham, in a remarkable performance, inhabits the psyche of each of his striking characters as they find themselves in one surprising situation after another.

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
1st Edition
Product dimensions:
6.32(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.46(d)

Read an Excerpt


Constantine, eight years old, was working in his father's garden and thinking about his own garden, a square of powdered granite he had staked out and combed into rows at the top of his family's land. First he weeded his father's bean rows and then he crawled among the gnarls and snags of his father's vineyard, tying errant tendrils back to the stakes with rough brown cord that was to his mind the exact color and texture of righteous, doomed effort. When his father talked about

"working ourselves to death to keep ourselves alive," Constantine imagined this cord, coarse and strong and drab, electric with stray hairs of its own, wrapping the world up into an awkward parcel that would not submit or stay tied, just as the grapevines kept working themselves loose and shooting out at ecstatic, skyward angles. It was one of his jobs to train the vines, and he had come to despise and respect them for their wild insistence. The vines had a secret, tangled life, a slumbering will, but it was he, Constantine, who would suffer if they weren't kept staked and orderly. His father had a merciless eye that could find one bad straw in ten bales of good intentions.

As he worked he thought of his garden, hidden away in the blare of the hilltop sun, three square feet so useless to his father's tightly bound future that they were given over as a toy to Constantine, the youngest. The earth in his garden was little more than a quarter inch of dust caught in a declivity of rock, but he would draw fruit from it by determination and work, the push of his own will.

From his mother's kitchen he had spirited dozens of seeds, the odd ones that stuck to the knife or fell on thefloor no matter how carefully she checked herself for the sin of waste. His garden lay high on a crown of scorched rock where no one bothered to go; if it produced he could tend the crop without telling anyone. He could wait until harvest time and descend triumphantly, carrying an eggplant or a pepper, perhaps a tomato. He could walk through the autumn dusk to the house where his mother would be laying out supper for his father and brothers. The light would be at his back, hammered and golden. It would cut into the dimness of the kitchen as he threw open the door. His mother and father and brothers would look at him, the runt, of whom so little was expected. When he stood in the vineyard looking down at the world -- the ruins of the Papandreous' farm, the Kalamata Company's olive groves, the remote shimmer of town -- he thought of climbing the rocks one day to find green shoots pushing through his patch of dust. The priest counseled that miracles were the result of diligence and blind faith. He was faithful.

And he was diligent. Every day he took his ration of water, drank half, and sprinkled half over his seeds. That was easy, but he needed better soil as well.

The pants sewn by his mother had no pockets, and it would be impossible to steal handfuls of dirt from his father's garden and climb with them past the goats'

shed and across the curving face of the rock without being detected. So he stole the only way he could, by bending over every evening at the end of the workday, as if tying down one last low vine, and filling his mouth with earth. The soil had a heady, fecal taste; a darkness on his tongue that was at once revolting and strangely, dangerously delicious. With his mouth full he made his way up the steep yard to the rocks. There was not much risk, even if he passed his father or one of his brothers. They were used to him not speaking. They believed he was silent because his thoughts were simple. In fact, he kept quiet because he feared mistakes. The world was made of mistakes, a thorny tangle, and no amount of cord, however fastidiously tied, could bind them all down. Punishment waited everywhere. It was wiser not to speak. Every evening he walked in his customary silence past whatever brothers might still be at work among the goats, holding his cheeks in so no one would guess his mouth was full. As he crossed the yard and ascended the rocks he struggled not to swallow but inevitably he did, and some of the dirt sifted down his throat, reinfecting him with its pungent black taste. The dirt was threaded with goat dung, and his eyes watered. Still, by the time he reached the top, there remained a fair-sized ball of wet earth to spit into his palm. Quickly then, fearful that one of his brothers might have followed to tease him, he worked the handful of soil into his miniature garden. It was drenched with his saliva. He massaged it in and thought of his mother, who forgot to look at him because her own life held too many troubles for her to watch. He thought of her carrying food to his ravenous, shouting brothers. He thought of how her face would look as he came through the door one harvest evening. He would stand in the bent, dusty light before his surprised family. Then he would walk up to the table and lay out what he'd brought: a pepper, an eggplant, a tomato.

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Meet the Author

Michael Cunningham is the bestselling author of The Hours, which won the Pulitzer Prize and was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film. He lives in New York.

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Flesh and Blood 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really liked this book a lot and would recommend it to others. It is a little racy in some parts, but from the way Cunningham writes, it just seems like that is what life is like for these characters. It's neat to see how the characters develop over the years.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I liked this book. It gives a candid tale of a family over three generations. I think that the trials of the family, and the detail they are described in, pulls you into the story. Life is disterbing, this book relays life, not the impression of life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
WOW! That's the first thing that comes to mind about this amazingly well written story. Cunningham makes these characters not only believable, but *real*.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The greatest thing about this book is the courage of writing reality with all the words it deserves. Some might call too sexual, to visual and shocking... but, that's the way life is. Umperfect, dirty... and so heartbreakingly beautiful. Cunningham's story about this family makes us realise that ours is not that different... and, by realising that, we get to understand things better... and accept things better. Leave your prejudice behind when reading this book... it deserves an open heart.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Yeah..this book sort of catches your interest in the beginning, but it drags on later. Also, I think there are too many sexual scenes vividly described in this book. That includes gay encounters, incest, and both--a male cousin gives oral sex to his other male cousin. I don't know. It's pretty disturbing to me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ok. We must wipe out logan's frieds before killing logan. Then we can wipe out the other camps.
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carlosmock More than 1 year ago
Michael Cunningham creates a trace of Americana by following one hundred years (1935 - 2035) of three and a half generations of the Mary Guccio and Constantine Strassos marriage. Mary is an Italian immigrant and Constantine came from Greece. They meet in the US and they fall in love. They bear three Children: Susan, Billy, and Zoe. Originally Constantine struggles to keep bread on the table and is abusive physically with his family; sexually attacks Susan, Billy is his punching bag, and Zoe is such a rare being, he has no idea of what to do with her. She fares the best because Constantine loves to garden, a trait that he shares with Zoe. One night in 1963, Constantine meets another Greek at a bar, Nick Kazankakis. They connect immediately and this results in the upward mobility of Constantine. Building track houses and cutting costs they build an empire that makes Constantine very rich. Susan marries Todd, her high school sweetheart and they move to New Heaven where Todd is going to Yale. She works to support her husband and is afflicted by infertility, which makes her quite unhappy. Finally she has an affair with their tree doctor, Joel, and after deciding to end the affair, she conceives (either from Joel or Todd) a boy, Ben. Billy goes to Harvard and is gay. He is permanently looking for love, until he meets Harry, a cardiologist, with whom he establishes a long lasting relationship. Zoe moves to New York, where she befriends Cassandra, a transvestite, who adopts her. Zoe lives a life of the 60's with lots of drugs and sex. She conceives a boy, Jamal, from an African American father she dated for a while. She gets AIDS from her drug use. Mary knew that her husband was having an affair with his secretary, and in 1979, when she meets her at the office, she goes ballistic. She gets a separation and later a divorce in 1982. Constantine marries Magda, his secretary, to spite everyone. A really funny moment is that when Mary calls to inquire about Jamal, Cassandra answers the phone and Mary can relate to the "woman" very well and they form a bond that lasts for the rest of their lifetimes. Even after Mary discovers what Cassandra really is. Ben is gay, and to hide it, he learns to sail with his grandfather, Constantine. Zoe is the first to pick on Ben's sexuality as she suspects that Jamal and Ben are having sex. Jamal is straight and just love to have sex, but he finally rejects Ben because it is getting awkward for Jamal to screw his cousin. In the middle of the rejection, with Jamal's dick out and Ben on his knees, Ben is caught in the act by Constantine. After being discovered, Ben decides to go sailing with his grandfather. He sails dangerously fast until they capsize. Instead of picking the boat up, because he can't deal with his sexuality he commits suicide swimming away until he drowns. Zoe and Cassandra are both die from AIDS and Jamal is adopted by Billy-who changes his name to Will-and Harry. Susan leaves Todd after the death of her son and remarries: at age 45 has a daughter whom she names Zoe. The book ends in 2035 as Jamal, now married and with kids is spreading the ashes of Will and Harry.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
if anyone likes disfunctional family books here's the best of them all. terrific writing and a great plot!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The characters, like actual people, cling to all the changes they experience in effects, relationships, knowledge, and time. The writing is full of knowledge and a gift for observation and its translation. A true telling.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Flesh and Blood is a spectacular novel. This book has heart and soul and I would reccomend it to anyone. Although Cunningham was awarded the pulitzer prize for the hours (also a spectacular novel,) I found this novel to be cunninham at his very best.