Specimen Days

Specimen Days

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Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham, Alan Cumming

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 height of the Industrial Revolution, as human beings confront the alienated realities of the new machine age. “The Children’s Crusade,” set in the early twenty-first century, plays with the conventions of the noir thriller as it tracks the pursuit of a terrorist band which is detonating bombs seemingly at random around the city. The third part, “Like Beauty,” evokes a New York 150 years into the future, when the city is all but overwhelmed by refugees from the first inhabited planet to be contacted by the people of Earth. Presiding over each episode of this interrelated whole is the prophetic figure of the poet Walt Whitman, who promised his future readers, “It avails not, neither distance nor place...I am with you, and know how it is.”

SPECIMEN DAYS is a genre-bending, haunting, and transformative ode to life in our greatest city—a work of surpassing power and beauty by one of the most original and daring writers at work today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781593976897
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Publication date: 06/15/2005
Edition description: Unabridged
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 5.70(h) x 1.31(d)

About the Author

MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM’s most recent, best-selling novel, The Hours, won both the Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner award, and became an Academy Award-winning film starring Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, and Meryl Streep. An earlier novel, A Home at the End of the World, was recently made into a film starring Colin Farrell, Dallas Roberts, Sissy Spacek, and Robin Wright Penn. He lives in New York.


New York, New York

Date of Birth:

November 6, 1952

Place of Birth:

Cincinnati, Ohio


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

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Specimen Days 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
carlosmock More than 1 year ago
Specimen days is three tales connected by a group of characters: a young boy, a man and a woman; and Walt Whitman-the poet and his poetry. They all occur in New York City. In the first story, "in the Machine"-takes place in the height of the industrial revolution, as human beings confront the alienating realities of the new machine age. The story opens with the Simon's death, who suffered a terrible accident at work and was killed by the machine he worked with. His younger brother Lucas, or Luke, drops out from school to take the vacant position so that he can support his family. He loved Walt Whitman and had borrowed one of his books from the Library. One day Lucas meets the poet, who tells him to walk north. He ends in Central park and sees the stars for the first time. Simon was going to marry Catherine Fitzhugh, who was a seamstress at a factory and is carrying Simon's baby. Luke learns and master's the work that Simon used to do, but he is infatuated with Catherine and keeps trying to stay in touch with her. Luke learns to listen to the machines and has a premonition that Catherine is in danger. He buys her a bowl as a present to try to keep her from going to work. When that does not work, he incurs in an accident with the machine that killed his brother and Catherine stays with him in the hospital, thus saving her from a fire that would have killed her had she been the factory where she worked. The second story: "The Children's Crusade" is set in the early twenty first century. It tracks the pursuit of a terrorist band that is detonating bombs, seemingly at random around New York City. Cat Martin, who had lost a son by the name of Luke, is a 911 operator and takes a call that should have been investigated. A young child quotes Wait Whitman verses as he tells her he is going to kill someone. Three days later Dick Hart, a prominent real estate magnate in New York is killed by a white child with a pipe bomb. The child runs to the victim, embraces him and detonates the bomb. A second call comes to her. Again a child quotes Walt Whitman poetry and speaks similarly to the first one-he belongs to the family, they have no names and quote Whitman: "Nobody really dies. We go to the grass. We go to the trees." Cat goes home-she lives near the factory of women that burnt last century (1st story) and in front of her door, someone writes: "To die is different from what anyone supposes, and luckier." Again from Whitman. She goes to her boyfriend's house-Simon Dryden-and next day a 22y/o black man by the name of Henry Cobbs is killed by a white child with a pipe bomb. Next day, Cat takes the day off and she walks on Broadway where she sees a bowl at Gaya's Emporium and she buys it (1st story). Next call is from a woman who tells Cat that "the end of days are coming." They have cells of children in many towns. She calls it The children's crusade. This woman tells cat to find a third boy. When Cat goes there with Pete, her cop buddy, they find a house that was wallpapered with Walt Whitman's poetry everywhere. She realizes is where the boys grew up and where they were indoctrinated and taught to kill. Finally Cat meets the third boy. She talks him into getting rid of the bomb, she feeds, clothes and decides that rather than turning him in, she will raise him as the lost child (Luke) she no longer has. So she names this kid Luke and they escape New York. Unfortunately another si
Hill_Ravens More than 1 year ago
A very interesting read from start to finish. I am still not entirely sure what the overall object of the book is, but I did really enjoy the adventure. The book is broken up into three seperate stories which all have ties which bind them together. However, the ties are not at all expected or even fully understood until the end. I really enjoyed that each story was set in a different time period. As a result the book satisfied my like of historical fiction, semi modern persepectives & future sci-fi adventures all in one. The dips, turns and twists were not all expected, and did not remain constant or even slightly predictable with each story. It was easier to fall in love with the first set of characters and not so much with the last group to take the stage. I would recommend this for anyone looking for a good read which is definitely out of the ordinary.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was, to me, both enjoyable and one of the most disappointing of 2005. Seven years after Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize winning The Hours, he has written a book that is good but does not live up to the his high standard. While I consider The Hours to be perhaps the most brilliant books of its decade this book seems to follow more along the lines of a novelistic 'jam session.' The book, with its three novellas seems less acute then Cunningham's previous novels, giving it a sprawling feel common to real life but not necessarily good fiction. While Cunningham does retain his uniquely vivid and lyrical style, immersing oneself in his beautiful, poetic style isn't enough to save his sometimes scattered, often shaky plotline. The book starts of with a quite interesting novella about the industrial revolution in 19th Century New York but with each passing story they get less and less impressive. While I congratulate Mr. Cunningham for trying not to be a one trick horse with his ambitious jaunt into the realm of science fiction, it is easy to see that science fiction is not his forte. The third novella works less and less until I get to the ending that inspires the question 'I read all the way for this?' While some of the previous reviewers might think I am being a little harsh, it is only because I have great faith in Cunningham's powers. Any reader, who picked up this book, never having read Cunningham before, would likely have the reaction that he is a good but not memorable author, while he is so much more than that. But for us seasoned, and perhaps jaded, reviewers it raises the question whether we would have invariably felt disappointed no matter what his book had been. I think this is, for Cunningham, somewhat of a second novel syndrome. While, of course this is his fifth novel, I think perhaps after the great success of The Hours he is suffering from the notion that no matter what he does his fans will not like. All in all Specimen Days is exactly as stated above, a good but not great book that will undoubtedly not withstand the test of time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was so eagerly looking forward to reading this book! This triptych was extremely dissapointing. The beginning of the first part seems like a sophomoric attempt of an emerging writer to show the readers how well the he/she can write. End result: Unnecesarily cumbersome and tedious sentence structures. Additionallly, writing the book in three parts, while refreshing in 'The Hours', seemed ineffective in 'Specimen Days'. I lent it to two others and they didn't even finish the book. Oh, well, you win some, and lose some!