A Home at the End of the World: A Novel

A Home at the End of the World: A Novel

by Michael Cunningham

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Overview

A Home at the End of the World: A Novel by Michael Cunningham

From Michael Cunningham, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hours, comes this widely praised novel of two boyhood friends: Jonathan, lonely, introspective, and unsure of himself; and Bobby, hip, dark, and inarticulate. In New York after college, Bobby moves in with Jonathan and his roommate, Clare, a veteran of the city's erotic wars. Bobby and Clare fall in love, scuttling the plans of Jonathan, who is gay, to father Clare's child. Then, when Clare and Bobby have a baby, the three move to a small house upstate to raise "their" child together and, with an odd friend, Alice, create a new kind of family. A Home at the End of the World masterfully depicts the charged, fragile relationships of urban life today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312202316
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 11/15/1998
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 500,084
Product dimensions: 5.47(w) x 8.16(h) x 0.99(d)

About the Author

Michael Cunningham is "one of our very best writers" (Richard Eder, The Los Angeles Times). An excerpt from A Home at the End of the World was published in The New Yorker, chosen for Best American Short Stories 1989, and featured on NPR's Selected Shorts. He is the author of two other novels, Flesh and Blood and The Hours. He lives in New York.

Hometown:

New York, New York

Date of Birth:

November 6, 1952

Place of Birth:

Cincinnati, Ohio

Education:

B.A., Stanford University, 1975; M.F.A., University of Iowa, 1980

Read an Excerpt

BOBBY

Once our father bought a convertible. Don't ask me. I was five. He bought it and drove it home as casually as he'd bring a gallon of rocky road. Picture our mother's surprise. She kept rubber bands on the doorknobs. She washed old plastic bags and hung them on the line to dry, a string of thrifty tame jellyfish floating in the sun. Imagine her scrubbing the cheese smell out of a plastic bag on its third or fourth go-round when our father pulls up in a Chevy convertible, used but nevertheless -- a moving metal landscape, chrome bumpers and what looks like acres of molded silver car-flesh. He saw it parked downtown with a For Sale sign and decided to be the kind of man who buys a car on a whim. We can see as he pulls up that the manic joy has started to fade for him. The car is already an embarrassment. He cruises into the driveway with a frozen smile that matches the Chevy's grille.

Of course the car has to go. Our mother never sets foot. My older brother Carlton and I get taken for one drive. Carlton is ecstatic. I am skeptical. If our father would buy a car on a street corner, what else might he do? Who does this make him?

He takes us to the country. Roadside stands overflow with apples. Pumpkins shed their light on farmhouse lawns. Carlton, wild with excitement, stands up on the front seat and has to be pulled back down. I help. Our father grabs Carlton's beaded cowboy belt on one side and I on the other. I enjoy this. I feel useful, helping to pull Carlton down.

We pass a big farm. Its outbuildings are anchored on a sea of swaying wheat, its white clapboard is molten in the late, hazy light. All three of us, even Carlton, keep quiet as we pass. There is something familiar about this place. Cows graze, autumn trees cast their long shade. I tell myself we are farmers, and also somehow rich enough to drive a convertible. The world is gaudy with possibilities. When I ride in a car at night, I believe the moon is following me.

"We're home," I shout as we pass the farm. I don't know what I am saying. It's the combined effects of wind and speed on my brain. But neither Carlton nor our father questions me. We pass through a living silence. I am certain at that moment that we share the same dream. I look up to see that the moon, white and socketed in a gas-blue sky, is in fact following us. It isn't long before Carlton is standing up again, screaming into the rush of air, and our father and I are pulling him down, back into the sanctuary of that big car.

 

JONATHAN

We gathered at dusk on the darkening green. I was five. The air smelled of newly cut grass, and the sand traps were luminous. My father carried me on his shoulders. I was both pilot and captive of his enormity. My bare legs thrilled to the sandpaper of his cheeks, and I held on to his ears, great soft shells that buzzed minutely with hair.

My mother's red lipstick and fingernails looked black in the dusk. She was pregnant, just beginning to show, and the crowd parted for her. We made our small camp on the second fairway, with two folding aluminum chairs. Multitudes had turned out for the celebration. Smoke from their portable barbecues sharpened the air. I settled myself on my father's lap, and was given a sip of beer. My mother sat fanning herself with the Sunday funnies. Mosquitoes circled above us in the violet ether.

That Fourth of July the city of Cleveland had hired two famous Mexican brothers to set off fireworks over the municipal golf course. These brothers put on shows all over the world, at state and religious affairs. They came from deep in Mexico, where bread was baked in the shape of skulls and virgins, and fireworks were considered to be man's highest form of artistic expression.

The show started before the first star announced itself. It began unspectacularly. The brothers were playing their audience, throwing out some easy ones: standard double and triple blossomings, spiral rockets, colored sprays that left drab orchids of colored smoke Ordinary stuff. Then, following a pause, they began in earnest. A rocket shot straight up, pulling a thread of sliver light in its wake, and at the top of its arc it bloomed purple, a blazing five-pronged lily, each petal of which burst out with a blossom of its own. The crowd cooed its appreciation. My father cupped my belly with one enormous brown hand, and asked if I was enjoying the show. I nodded. Below his throat, an outcropping of dark blond hairs struggled to escape the collar of his madras shirt.

More of the lilies exploded, red yellow and mauve, their sliver stem lingering beneath them. Then came the snakes, hissing orange fire, a dozen at a time, great lolloping curves that met, intertwined, and diverged, sizzling all the while. They were followed by huge soundless snowflakes, crystalline bodies of purest white, and those by a constellation in the shape of Miss Liberty, with blue eyes and ruby lips. Thousands gasped and applauded. I remember my father's throat, speckled with dried blood, the stubbly skin loosely covering a huge knobbed mechanism that swallowed beer. When I whimpered at the occasional loud bang, or at a scattering of colored embers that seemed to be dropping directly onto our heads, he assured me we had nothing to fear. I could feel the rumble of his voice in my stomach and my legs. His lean arms, each lazily bisected by a single vein, held me firmly in place.

Table of Contents

Contents

Copyright Notice,
PART I,
BOBBY,
JONATHAN,
BOBBY,
JONATHAN,
ALICE,
BOBBY,
ALICE,
PART II,
JONATHAN,
BOBBY,
CLARE,
BOBBY,
CLARE,
JONATHAN,
ALICE,
JONATHAN,
CLARE,
BOBBY,
CLARE,
JONATHAN,
PART III,
BOBBY,
CLARE,
ALICE,
JONATHAN,
BOBBY,
JONATHAN,
CLARE,
BOBBY,
JONATHAN,

Reading Group Guide

Before the phenomenal success of his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Hours, Michael Cunningham published A Home at the End of the World to critical acclaim. It's the boldly affecting story of a love triangle between two men and a woman: Jonathan, headstrong and lonely; Bobby, dreamy and vulnerable; Clara, charismatic and adventurous. Challenging conventional notions of family and sexuality, the story spans four decades, reflecting many of the cultural changes and contradictions of America itself. In many ways more relevant than when it first appeared, A Home at the End of the World is an unflinching re-examination of the definition of family and gender roles, determined to explore unanswered questions raised by Sixties and Seventies counter--culture that dog us to this day.

1. Discuss the significance of the title A Home at the End of the World. Does it suggest hope, despair, or both? Explain.

2. Consider the structure of the novel. Why do alternating narrators work for this particular story? How would the story differ if an omniscient narrator or only one character told it? Is there one narrator whose voice you found especially compelling or identified with most? Why?

3. If you've read The Hours or Flesh and Blood by Michael Cunningham, what similarities do you notice in Cunningham's narrative style or themes with A Home at the End of the World? What distinguishes this book from his two later novels?

4. The third chapter was an award-winning short story, entitled "White Angel," published in The New Yorker prior to the novel. What makes that chapter particularly effective as a separate story? How does the rest of the novel deepen and expand on that story?

5. On page 6, Jonathan mentions his father's "beauty." Do you agree with him that it is unusual to speak of a father in that way? Why? Is male beauty or behavior portrayed in similarly unexpected or surprising ways in the novel?

6. As a young mother, Alice says of her relationship with her son Jonathan and his best friend Bobby: "Sometimes in those days I thought of Wendy from Peter Pan--an island mother to a troop of lost boys" (p. 87). What do you think she means? How does the theme of "lost boys" figure into the novel as a whole? What role do the women play in relation to this theme?

7. Discuss the eroticism fueling Jonathan and Bobby's childhood friendship. Do you think they view their shared sexual experiences differently? Explain. How does the erotic component of their relationship change as the novel progresses? Is there anything that remains constant?

8. On page 179, Jonathan says, "We become the stories we tell about ourselves." How might this observation apply to Jonathan, Bobby, Clare, and Alice? Do you view the stories these characters tell themselves as a form of self-preservation, self-delusion, or both? Explain with specific examples.

9. Do you think Jonathan, Bobby and Clare's attempt to redefine family succeeded or failed? Why? What do you think defines a family? What do you think the novel is ultimately saying about family?

10. What role does Erich play in the character's lives? In what ways do you think he is a catalyst for change? Discuss the significance of death in the novel.

11. In Bobby's final chapter, he thinks he spots a vision of Clare. "What I saw was just the wind blowing," he realizes. "It was either the wind or the spirit of the house itself, briefly unsettled by our nocturnal absence but to old to be sur prised by the errands born from the gap between what we can imagine and what we can in fact create" (p. 336). What do you think he means? Discuss the significance of this statement to the story as a whole.

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A Home at the End of the World 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 46 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Having read The Hours (and finding it excrutiatingly boring) years ago, I approached this book with much apprehension, especially upon instantly being reminded of Cunningham's device of telling each chapter from a different character's perspective. While it was annoying in The Hours, I feel that it really added a depth to this novel. My only beef with it being that often times an event would occur and be told from a particular perspective that wasn't as potentially interesting as another's might have been (i.e. Clare's version of the first time she had sex with Bobby, rather than from Bobby's POV which seemed infinitely more rich to me). The plot leaves something to be desired. Each of the character's definitely take a journey, but I don't feel that the action in many cases was interesting enough to work. It seemed as if the circumstances of these character's lives were often forced in order to lead to some sort of emotional or psychological revelation. On the whole, I found the entire thing to be unbelievable, though I did wholly believe the characters as well-rounded individuals (go figure!). In terms of action, I also have to say that Cunningham is a little too showy and smart for his own good. The language of this text is occasionally too flowery and descriptive for its own good. At several times I felt that the action sputtered or completely stalled while the writer turned a phrase or showed exactly how 'good' a writer he really is. The treatment of AIDS in this book is certainly worthy of note. At the end I was entirely floored by the seemingly careless regard for such a serious subject. But then I had to remember that this was written in the early 1990s and perhaps there wasn't as great a sensitivity towards the subject (though even that I don't entirely believe). While this may have been the attitude towards the disease at large in our country (and our world for that matter), I am continually surprised when gay writers don't at least make a small effort to 'lead by example' so to speak and present a positive image or attitude instead of reflecting the negative one. I fully understand the fear and abhorance that are clearly illustrated here in this book, but is it really necessary to present AIDS so hopelessly? While it might be fatal it isn't instant death, and so much of this novel makes you wonder why people don't just kill themselves as soon as they discover they have it. All of that being said, I guess I would still have to recommend this book to others. Obviously the writing is above average if it was able to provoke such a charged response out of me hours and days after I have finished reading the book. Be warned, though, there is little happiness or hope to be found here.
ashley1331 More than 1 year ago
i couldnt put it down! the characters are complex and delightful. the book is written by the perspective of almost all the characters. very touching to show a very new age "family"
Jenn0710 More than 1 year ago
A Home At The End of the World is, in my opinion, Cunningham's best work yet. It's the story of Bobby and Jonathan, best friends and social outcasts, and their unspoken love affair through the years. When Bobby joins Jonathan and his friend, the older and free-spirited Claire in New York, the trio become a family and the dynamics change as Bobby and Claire begin a love affair and Jonathan feels like an outcast, unable to express to Bobby his deep love for him. Claire and Bobby have a child together, and the three raise the girl together. Eventually, Calire comes to see that Jonathan and Bobby are happiest together and she leaves with the little girl. It's proof positive that a family doesn't have to consist of a mother, a father and a child but that a family is whatever you make it to be.
Guest More than 1 year ago
From Michael Cunningham, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hours, comes this widely praised novel of two boyhood friends: Jonathan, lonely, introspective, and unsure of himself and Bobby, hip, dark, and inarticulate. In New York after college, Bobby moves in with Jonathan and his roommate, Clare, a veteran of the city's erotic wars. Bobby and Clare fall in love, scuttling the plans of Jonathan, who is gay, to father Clare's child. Then, when Clare and Bobby have a baby, the three move to a small house upstate to raise 'their' child together and, with an odd friend, Alice, create a new kind of family. A Home at the End of the World masterfully depicts the charged, fragile relationships of urban life today.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is very well writen and weaves a story about interesting characters and thier interesting choices in life. It almost read itself to me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mr. Cunningham deserves multi BRAVOS for this book! The story stirred my inner passions and reflectiveness. This is wonderful writing! BRAVO, BRAVO, BRAVO!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a fabulous read. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. The characters are interesting and unusual. Cunningham gets to the very heart of what makes a home and what is a family.
Alirambles on LibraryThing 12 hours ago
I don't reread books very often, but this is one of those books where you read a passage and it so succinctly captures a moment, scene, or character, that you have to read it again just to take the whole thing in. Then you want to look up from the book for a minute to absorb it, read it again, and then dive back into the story to find out what happens next. This is the first book I've read by Michael Cunningham and I'm afraid to read any more. But, I'm going to anyway.It's the story of two childhood friends, Jonathon and Bobby, who drift apart and together again throughout their lives because they can't quite admit to being in love with each other. They find various ways to be together, along with Clare, who becomes the mother to a baby that is biologically Bobby's but emotionally just as much Jonathon's child. They build a life together. But the brilliance in this book is the way it presents the characters in all their imperfections, the way they don't do what you want them to do and you understand why. No, the briliance is how it's written, actually. The plot is secondary. I need to go read it again.
karima29 on LibraryThing 12 hours ago
Ooh, this book is lovely. I like this author very much as well. He also wrote "The Hours", which was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Claire Danes, and Ed Harris. Wonderful book, and movie.This book was also made into a movie, and I must admit that I watched the movie first and liked it so much that I got the book. And then of course, you know what 'they" say, that the book is always better than the movie. Well, in this case, the "they" is me, and the movie is good, but the book is better. While I'm on that subject, there was one case where the movie was better in my humble opinion, and that is Lord of The Rings, in one sense. In another, I would have appreciated it more, and not been so suspicious, had the only black people in the movie not been the orcs. Peter Jackson, what were you trying to say? Huh?For some reason, as I'm reading this book, I'm having a huge sense of deja-vu. Now I know I watched the movie, but I keep thinking that all the stuff I'm reading couldn't have been in the movie. There are two possible explanations. One that I read the book before, but then why do I not remember having read it? The other is that the movie was done really well.Anyway, I love when an author gives such life to the characters! Also love it when they change the narrators in every chapter. That way I get to hear the thoughts of all the characters, and end up with a very good impression of all of them.What sets this story apart from other stories is that the 4 main characters are all very different, very unique people. Their lives are ordinary, yet out of the ordinary. We have Bobby, who from childhood, seems to have a personality that is dependent on others. It's as if he needs other people to prove to himself that he is alive. Then there's Jonathan who hasn't been in love with anyone since he's been in love with Bobby when they were children. Having said that, he's in a strange platonic relationship with Claire, an older woman, and they're planning to have a baby, even though they're not doing anything about it since he's gay. The three of them enter into a relationship, and decide to raise a child. This book and film is about people living their lives unconventionally, and making no excuses about it. It's about living your dream, and doing what you think is best for yourself, first. And also, about what happens when you don't.The movie stars Colin Farrell as Bobby, and Robin Wright-Penn as Claire. Good performances from both of them, and the third unknown (to me) guy who played Jonathan.
devilwrites on LibraryThing 12 hours ago
Cunningham has an excellent ability to force his readers to pay attention to his characters. Here we have three, and we get them from three different first person POV's, which from a lesser writer would've failed horribly. The story focuses on three friends/lovers who are dealing with love, life, relationships, family, and what does to each of these. Not a traditional story about traditional relationships, these are real people bleeding on the page, and sometimes, it hurts to see them act so believably.
Lunarwill on LibraryThing 12 hours ago
Many reviews of this brilliant book perplex me. Some have commented that the action was slow or characters were introduced that didn't contribute enough to the overall plot, as if this were supposed to be a fast-paced thriller starring Tom Cruise (further evidence to me that even some readers have fallen prey to a short attention span paradigm). Others comment that it was poor because Jonathan wasn't the ideal of what a gay man should aspire to be in terms of strength of character. Since when has strenght of character been a yardstick for great literature? Michael Cunningham delivered in terms of breathtaking prose and the creation of characters that were alive--not just stereotypes. At the same time, he captured archetypal characteristics in Bobby, Jonathan, and Clare that mirror the faults and strengths of people in our own lives. Fear of abandonment. Fear of death and aging. Fear of responsibility. Hope for a better future. If you are in the mood for fluff (as we all are sometimes) save this for later. If not, don't miss it.
piefuchs on LibraryThing 12 hours ago
Does not live up to Flesh and Blood. As always, Cunningham creates complex believable characters. I found the plot a little weak however and part bordered a little too much on the political correct above the real.
Bembo on LibraryThing 12 hours ago
A touching tale of two young boys, each from a troubled background, who grow up togerther and enjoy a brotherly love and a sexual relationship. One then the other moves to New York, there are new charcacters, new relationships and finally a new location, but it is the love between the two that forms the basis. Highly recommended.
EricaKline on LibraryThing 12 hours ago
Good, 2 boys growing up, in love with each other, one is gay. Lyrical, sad and touching.
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