Michael Cunningham’s “Specimen Days” (a quick review so far)

I’m taking a break from allowing my life to be consumed by papers. I have managed to convince myself that I’m reading Michael Cunninghman’s “Specimen Days” for pleasure instead of because it is required. This convinces turned out to be rather easy though, as I quickly forgot that we were going to have a quiz on the book and sort of found myself absorbed in what was going to happen next.

To be honest, I haven’t made it all the way through the second portion of the book (it is broken up into thirds – and each third is a different version with different versions of the original characters). The first portion of the book, In the Machine, is a bizarre sort of ghost story. A young boy, Lucas, must support his immigrant family after his older brother, Simon, does in a machine at “the works”. Lucas finds himself working at the exact same machine as his brother has and chasing after the exact same woman, Catherine, as his brother had. Lucas takes on the responsibility of looking after his parents (who are not dealing well with the loss of Simon) and protecting Catherine. As the book carries on the reader learns that Simon, and the rest of the dead, are communicating through various machines, including the machine that Lucas is working at. Lucas realizes that Simon will want to make Catherine his bride in death and in order to do that the machines must take Catherine too. Lucas sacrifices his hand, and eventually his life, in order to save Catherine from dead Simon. As Catherine watches her place of employment burn to the ground, and all of her colleagues and friends jump to their deaths she clings to a dying Lucas at her side. Lucas’ heart explodes (it was never that strong and the loss of blood has overworked it) and he dies in Catherine’s arms, reciting the book in his head and finally understanding what he was meant for. Lucas’ death is something beautiful and Cunningham writes that, “An unspeakable beauty announced itself” (pg 93).

The explosion of Lucas’ heart carries over into the next book, The Children’s Crusade. The helpless, degraded Catherine of the first book is now a strong, independent, African American cop. Simon is her boyfriend who seems to trade stocks, or as Cat explains he “trade[s] futures”. Cat receives a call from a young boy who tells her that he is going to blow someone up. He tells her that he has no name and that he is now part of the family. At this point the reader has no idea who the family is and neither does Cat who muses that it could be the mafia or a similar group.

I’ll be updating this post as I read more of this book. A few days ago I had never experienced the writing of Michael Cunningham but now I’m quite glad that I’ve had to read this for ENGL 360. I’m going to have to check out some of his other works.

(You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.)

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