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Simon Catherine Lucas Un uomo una donna un bambino Tre vicende ambientate a New York nella seconda metà del Diciannovesimo secolo nel tempo presente e oltre un secolo avanti nel futuro Un racconto di fantasmi un thriller terroristico un'avventura fantascientifica d'a e di sopravvivenza E a legare tutto l'architettura portante di un unico sorprendente romanzo la poesia evocativa di Walt Whitman che travolge le esistenze dei tre protagonisti e un gioco di rimandi di elementi e personaggi che ritornano misteriosamente tra passato presente e futuro mentre una tazza di porcellana bianca reca le tracce di una lingua sconosciuta e gli uomini lottano per la sopravvivenza contro lo sfruttamento delle macchine contro le minacce terroristiche contro la terribile ipotesi dell'estinzione


10 thoughts on “Specimen Days

  1. says:

    Here Michael Cunningham brings his storytelling prowess to the fore I have to admit I initially assumed he had nicked the idea of this book from Cloud Atlas But research shows Cloud Atlas was only published a year earlier so given how much time a publishing house needs to package and prepare marketing for a finished manuscript it's impossible he knew anything about Mitchell's book while writing this And one assumes he must have been mightily miffed when he read reviews of Cloud Atlas and discovered his idea had been cloned while his ms was still sitting on some editor's desk because the similarities are uncanny Like Mitchell though loosely he uses an idea of reincarnation to fuse together stories set in different times and like Mitchell he pitches into two imaginary futures and like Mitchell he changes genre for every narrative I think Cunningham is a better sentence writer than Mitchell He's also grown up no trace of that adolescent silliness that can sometimes spoil Mitchell But I think Cloud Atlas is a finer overall achievement Mitchell's ideas run deeper Cunningham seems a little fixated on the theme of life not meeting expectation a skeleton which shapes all his books The first part playful historical fiction is set in New York at the height of the industrial revolution It features a deformed young boy whose brother is eaten by a machine and who inadvertently uotes Walt Whitman whenever at a loss for words He forms the idea that all the machines in the city are intent on eating their operators and sets himself the task of saving the girl to whom his brother was engaged It's beautifully written and compelling The second part crime thriller is set in the near future and features a criminal psychologist who answers phone calls from people claiming to have information about a child suicide bomber One particular caller a child who uotes Walt Whitman and refers to the bomber as his brother lets it be known there is a family of child bombers each with a specific individual target It becomes clear she is this child's target I was less keen on this part with its less than convincing portrayal of criminal psychologist Maybe it was his aim to ridicule the profession? Whatever I was never uite fully engaged The third part dystopian science fiction is set in the far future and features an android who is employed in role playing fantasies for tourists in a New York that has become a kind of theme parkvirtual world He too spouts Whitman when his circuits come up short Governments and laws change from one day to the next in this New York and when androids are outlawed he has to flee His only option seems to be to meet his maker He secures unexpected help from a Nadian one of the many migrant aliens from another planet Not sure sci fi buffs will love it with its lapses of cohering detail aliens from another planet who haven't got beyond living in huts and are yet to evolve a written language somehow becoming technicians in a space program But I loved this story How it made androids of us all with our debilitating unrealised dreams and struggles to find lasting meaning I always love the obvious pleasure Michael Cunningham takes in writing descriptive passages Only at these subdued moments could you truly comprehend that this glittering blighted city was part of a slumbering continent; a vastness where headlights answered the constellations; a fertile black roll of field and woods dotted by the arctic brightness of gas stations and all night diners town after shuttered town strung with streetlights sparsely attended by the members of the night shifts the wanderers who scavenged in the dark the insomniacs with their reading lights the mothers trying to console colicky babies the waitresses and gas pump guys the bakers and the lunaticsAnd I love the homage he always pays to Woolf in his novels How often he uses the Wolf refrain it rises and falls and rises again But of course this book is a testament not to Woolf he'd already done that but of his love for Walt Whitman 45 stars


  2. says:

    I would guess David Mitchell provided a hefty dose of inspiration for this novel in three parts and different historical settings All three narratives are set in an alternate New York In the Hours Cunningham used Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway as the linking common dominator; here he uses Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass All three stories have a young disenfranchised and lost boy at their heart who uotes Whitman The first story takes us back to the beginnings of the mechanised age Lucas' brother has just been killed at work by a machine Lucas is to take his place at the factory He falls hopelessly in love with his brother's fiancé Soon he begins to believe it is the aim of all machines to kill their operators and sets out to save his brother's fiancé The second story for me the least successful is about a woman who handles emergency police calls and her relationship with a boy who is part of a cult known as the children's crusade brainwashed into becoming suicide bombers The third story is set in the future and features an android as its hero and an alien as its heroine Sounds a bit daft but it was actually my favourite narrative of the three Because it deals so brilliantly with what it means to be human with all our emotional euipment This isn't as accomplished as The Hours but again there's lots of fabulous writing and I really enjoyed reading it 45 stars


  3. says:

    I don’t know what it is about this novel but I'm convinced there is some kind of magic weaved into the pages I found it to be a captivating read extremely well written and certainly thought provoking 'Specimen Days' is made up of three different novellas set in New York City that are separated by time past present future but deal with themes of society humanity and what happens when abnormality threatens the fabric of civility They stand alone as individual stories but are also connected through plot devices and the poetic works of Walt Whitman Part literary part thriller and part history Specimen Days covers a lot of ground and covers it well There are paranormal noir and science fiction elements in play which serves to create a book that certainly ain't like the rest From a ghost story set against the backdrop of the industrial age to a thriller featuring a children's cult that have been brainwashed into becoming suicide bombers to a barely recognizable NYC a hundred years from now where a lower class alien race and synthetic humans are being brutally oppressed by a society that has largely gone backward as much as forward 'Specimen Days' is big book brimming with big ideas I’ve read the novel several times now and found it just as engaging and transformative as the first time Cunningham’s prose and ideas always play on my mind long after I put the book down Definitely worth checking out This book was one of the '10 Books That Stuck With Me' piece I wrote See which others made the listhttpjkentmessumcom2014031910


  4. says:

    Before reading this book I came across a couple of comments one that I heard directed to Cunningham himself at the Tennessee Williams Festival in NO last month that addressed Cunningham 'copying' himself that he was doing here with Whitman what he did with Woolf in The Hours It is true that each writer has a lot to do with each respective novel but beyond that I see no similarityAt the aforementioned literary fest I heard Cunningham call himself a 'language ueen' and then later in the day a 'language crank' meaning that what he looks for when he reads are beautiful sentences He writes them too Last night after finishing this book I dreamed of his sentences a sure sign of a book that has implanted itself in my brainThe first section was my favorite not surprisingly since it's set in the 19th century The writing with the foreboding and visionary thoughts of Lucas is exuisite At times as in each of the later sections as well it's even creepy and tension filled Maybe it's meant to evoke a sensational novel of the time period and though I know it can be read as a ghost story I think it can also be read as not one A la James' The Turn of the Screw?Even in the second section which is of a crime thriller style not my favorite genre I was won over though I wasn't sure of it at first and in certain passages It may not have been a fit for me but looking back on it I think it fit the overall pattern and scheme of the bookTo say what I liked about the speculative dystopian third section might spoil the experience for another reader I'll just say that it addresses what it means to be human and what it might mean to be human in the future and that who turned out to be a Whitman figure in this section surprised me and perhaps is what turned the whole work from 4 to 5 stars for me that and my dreaming of its sentencesI have my friend James Murphy and his review to thank for my reading this novel and for my seeing the parallels to Dante I don't know Dante well enough to have seen that on my own making the read even richer Now I wish I had read this before the Fest so I could've asked Cunningham about that


  5. says:

    I knew little of Michael Cunningham’s work I just knew that he wrote The Hours which was an Academy Award winning film my parents loved so I had no fixed expectations I gave myself four days to finish this book but managed to do so in three days That’s how captivating it was Cunningham’s experimental fiction was masterfully told like a musical composition that rises and falls with the right notes In Specimen Days he writes in three genres dividing the book into three breathtaking novellas A child said 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 than he” Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass1 “In The Machine” A Historical Dickensian TaleThe first novella was written in the boy Lucas’ POV It was set sometime during the industrialization age of America Lucas’ brother Simon has just died and this left his fiancee Catherine uncared for and with child Though aready shouldering the financial burden of supporting his parents thirteen year old Lucas still felt it was his responsibility to watch out after Catherine He was a peculiar boy reciting Walt Whitman poetry as his way to express his feelings or to make conversation Through Lucas’ narrations Cunningham’s knack for weaving lyrical phrases is astounding The paragraphs contain such breathless pacing and descriptive precision which magnified the strength of Lucas’ evocative insights about his surroundings as he tries to understand the concept of labor and death He wants to de mystify such adult concepts and it is Whitman’s poetry that guides him At the very heart of it all Lucas begins to explore the possibility that his brother’s soul was trapped inside the welding machinery that Lucas uses at his work in the factory Believing that if men die and they spread out among the leaves and grass as Whitman elouently wrote Lucas was convinced that ghosts dwell among the machinery across New York including the sewing machine that Catherine tends to at her own workplace He ventures on to save herFor such a comical angle to the story Cunningham was still able to approach it with great sensitivity providing passages that brood over the simplest but unanswered uestions about life which gives Lucas’ character a crushing sort of loneliness He is a child who tries to make sense of the world by allowing poetry to fill the gaps It’s a feat that manages to intensify the reading experience even and Cunningham drives it home by using Lucas’ “ghost” as an allegory of the American industrialization’s hovering presence and the gradual withdrawal of human spirit from the organic towards the mechanical Lucas’ belief of souls being trapped in the machines is a symbolism easy to pick up on but Cunningham’s beautifully convoluted prose is rich with details that it was able to keep everything subtle The climactic ending was even transitory to the next novella Reading In the Machine was like stumbling in the dark and trusting all the sensory directions given but never truly seeing the big picture forming until the novel moves into the second story And to die is different from what any one supposed and luckier2 “The Children’s Crusade” A Detective Psychological ThrillerThe sudden shift of genre by the second novella was not at all jarring This time it was set on a post 911 New York with Cat Martin a forensic psychologist as a focus character She works for a hotline division who handles calls from possible terrorists She got a message from a young boy who talked about “the family” and recites mantras like Every atom belonging to you as well belongs to me which she recognized to be a verse from a Walt Whitman poem Days after news of child terrorists have spread across the city claiming both the rich and the poor as victims of homemade bombs At first glance this story doesn’t have any sort of connection to the first one until the reader realizes that Cat was short for “Catherine” and her boyfriend’s name is “Simon” and she has a son named “Luke” whom she lost to an illness But these are differrent characters with the same names and are a century apart from each other yet Cunningham weaves these two stories—one of the past and one from the somewhat present—as a dissonance of worlds that are created through the choices of these three central characters Whatever the boy Lucas from the first story feared about then those ghosts he talked about have now taken shape into something horribly concrete in Cat Martin’s New York where a heightened sense of paranoia and grief is exploited by a terrorist cell composed of childrenIt was a detective story hard boiled and suspenseful with every turn of the page—right until the moment of a chance meeting between Cat and one of the child terrorists In this story Cunningham delves into the scarlet thread so immensely significant in detective stories and The Children’s Crusadebecame a harrowing tale that overflows with the twisted reflections of humanity’s fears It was by this installment that I started to tear up completely because Cunningham has a way to string along certain phrases that provokes such a visceral emotional response that a reader just surrenders without even knowing it It was juxtaposed perfectly with In The Machine especially since he used the three characters Catherine Simon and Lucas as representations of man woman and child; three aspects poignantly enhanced by the last novella Fear not O Muse truly new ways and days receive surround youAnd yet the same old human race the same within withoutFaces and hearts the same feelings the same yearning the sameThe same old love beauty and use the same”3 “Like Beauty” A Sci Fi Love Story About Birth and DestinationThe final novella was set 150 years in the future in New York Humans have already made first contact with aliens and they are lizard life forms called Nadians who are now living as refugees in planet Earth They are domestic helpers treated as secondary citizens and enslaved by mankind Simon—a biomechanical cyborg—is the focus character and he was programmed as a mugger in the New York streets sought after by tourists who want to be victimized because of the adrenaline release it provides He was captivated by a Nadian called Catareen whom he starts an adventure with when they decided to escape to Denver On the road they met a homeless boy posing as Jesus in a Halloween costume named Lucas This story was the most challenging of the three because it was science fiction and there is always a strange pull with this genre that Cunningham was able to give justice to Simon was a biomechanical conception; half human and half machine a literal representation of Lucas’ ghost of a brother from the first story and his ‘maker’ has included Whitman poetry in his software which he recites every time under duress What follows after is a redemptive tale about the power of technology and a humane understanding of how it can enrich lives instead of destroy themThere is an enduring uality to the prose of this story that was magnified by the previous events from In The Machine and The Children’s Crusade It seemed to me that these versions of Simon Catherine and Lucas are products of the past and present colliding together to form a future defined by beginnings and endings that mirror each other So many imagery and symbolism come full circle by this last story Religious allegories were also used I was listening to Death Cab For Cutie’s “Tiny Vessels” so I was positively imbued with emotions and sensations that can only be expressed in tears It didn’t feel cheesy at all because it seemed like a perfectly acceptable response to cry about this book because of its overwhelming poetry in its vitalizing proseOverall Michael Cunningham’s Specimen Days is a treasure As you read through it feels like seeds are sprouting out from your heart and flourishes within transforming you as a reader into a person aware of transience and embracing its trappingsRECOMMENDED 1010


  6. says:

    I can think about uite a few reasons why Michael Cunningham would decide to write a novel ? like this one; Wanting to leave his comfort zone while proving that he could actually write in different genres is certainly a reason big enough for him to have done so and to go all experimentalBecause let’s face it at the time stakes and expectations were extremely high It couldn’t have been easy to come up with something as imaginative engaging and beautiful as The HoursBut now after finishing this I can see that these two books can’t even be compared I’m not saying Specimen Days is a bad book because it’s not and I think the only reason why it didn’t become a major bestseller was because it was not Cunningham’s first or second novel Its originality played against it Timing is everything Structure wise Specimen Days is actually three novellas of totally different genres happening at different time periods but linked by an idea and a symbolic object running throughout This time Cunningham made poetry the main character Oh and New York Always New York the city of loners I’ll have to be honest not only because that’s the right thing to do but also because I promised myself I was going to be fair about my ratings this year and say that I didn’t love Cunningham’s characters as I usually do but because I loved his poetic meaningfull and stunning writing as much as ever before this will get a strong four star rating according to my new year’s rating standards “I feel like there’s something terrible and wonderful and amazing that’s just beyond my grasp I have dreams about it I do dream by the way It hovers over me at odd moments And then it’s gone I feel like I’m always on the brink of something that never arrives I want to either have it or be free of it”After a beautiful passage like this one I must admit I always get a bit confused about the reasons why I can’t seem to fully understandappreciate poetry But then just by the end of the third part novella I came across another wonderful passage and I think I finally get it I’ll leave you with it“I don’t know poetry exactly I contain it”


  7. says:

    Read via audiobook and hardcover StoriesIn the Machine 45 stars Children's Crusade 45 stars Like Beauty 45 stars Alan Cumming's narration 3 5 stars This is a series of inter connected stories that feature the same souls but in different roles and circumstances A man named Simon a boy named Luke and a woman named CatherineCatareen Each story has it's own feel and vibe but at the same time you can sense this thread connecting everything not sure of where it leads but content to go along for the rideIt made me smile when bits of other stories made an appearance in the following one making that connection for lack of a better word clear A certain small thing that seemed to have a certain aura about it had a connection to everyone drawing them to it even if they didn't understand why No big purpose in it just a small beauty in uncertain times Throughout it all Walt Whitman and his poetry maintain a solid presence it's felt keenly in some cases and is strangely approiate in oneThe third story was the most out there but in a good way The whole world of that story was done very well and despite being semi vague it gave you enough of the world to understand what was going on I have no adeuate words to explain how much I love this book beautiful and gorgeous seem clichéd but I don't careWould highly recommend May edit for thoughts and uotes on other stories later pardon any errors till I can get to my laptop


  8. says:

    American writer who is known for 1988's Pulitzer awardee for Fiction The Hours Michael Cummingham born 1952 first published this book The Specimen Days in 2005 If The Hours is based on Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway The Specimen Days is based on the Walt Whitman's complete collection of poetry and collected prose bearing the same titleIf there is an award for the most organized and ambitious structure for a trilogy it has to be this Cunningham work The reason is that this book is divided into 3 parts Each part has its own 3 characters a man a woman and a boy its own setting and time and its own genrePart I In The Machine Simon Catherine Lucas Past Industrial Revolution horrorPart II The Children's Crusade Simon Cat Luke Present 20th century noir thrillerPart III Like Beauty Simon Catareen Luke Future 150 years from now science fictionWhat these 3 stories have in common1 All set in New York but at different periods of time2 They all have Walt Whitman either as a character or the lines in his Leaves of Grass are read or become basis of the story3 There are only 3 main characters a man a woman and a boy but they may or may not be related to each otherEach story can stand on its own Although I am not really fond of the three genres I liked the first one better because of the way the scare was handled I just cannot associate ghost with machines but it helped when if I imagined how people during the Industrial Revolution probably felt about machines taking over their jobs Also prior to this book I had no idea who Walt Whitman was but I understand that he was suspected to be gay and based on Wiki Michael Cunningham who is openly gay to but he does not want to be called gay writer as his being gay is not all about his being a writer worked his Laws of Creation as editor of Walt Whitman's poems and he also its introduction So while reading I had to check entries in Wiki what the Whitman as character or Whitman's poems being read in the story probably meant Thus it took me awhile to finish this book and for most times I just got tired of reading and understanding those lines from Whitman's poems


  9. says:

    I was surprised and delighted by every element of Specimen Days the precision and freshness of the language the startling imagery and metaphors and the utterly novel way of looking at the world Because of the beauty of the prose I was expecting a story about nothing but the plot uickly became intensely dramatic and entirely unpredictable Every detail is meaningful not just decorative and the motifs that link the three stories are subtle and clever The changes in register from historical to contemporary to speculative were so assured my suspension of disbelief wasn’t strained for a moment despite the audacity of the concept It is wry funny insightful and disturbing and provokes thought on an incredible range of contemporary issues including poverty immigration race media pollution development loss and death without ever feeling preachy or didactic Specimen Days is nothing less than astonishing


  10. says:

    I generally LOVE Michael Cunningham but I felt he was copying his literature borrowing idea from The Hours He was experimenting with form but it didn't work for me Three stories linked to one work the author shows up in the earliest story that's what he borrowed from The Hours In Specimen Days Cunningham offers three novels based on Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman In the first novella set in Victorian NYC a mentally challenged factory worker has taken his dead brother's job even as the boy obsesses about the poet The boy starts to hear his brother's ghost in the machines In the second a modern NYC police woman investigates a gang of terrorist children motivated by Whitman's work The third is about an android and an alien trying to escape future NYC; the android has a Whitman app built into his brainThe first story is Grand Guignol like Sweeney Todd melodrama The second is a modern urban terrorist plot with child gangs with a little VC Andrews thrown in The third is speculative science fiction Weird comboIt doesn't jibe as well as The Hours; the disparate styles create distance instead of unity I felt like he was experimenting like what Michael Chabon does successfully but Cunningham is interested in prose than plot so the drive wasn't as there to captivate the readers These stories are pretty just not gripping There was no party to anticipate like in The Hours In the third story of Specimen Days the big climactic moment happens halfway through the tale In the second novella the overlap of themes of terrorism and child rearing seems odd I liked the first tale the most even though I generally ain't a fan of melodramatic ghost stories and I like that each of the three tales explored forms of resistance and terrorism though I wish again they'd been unified And I'm not sure what this sort of defiance has to do with WhitmanMC is a gorgeous writer And I love that he went out on a limb It's a nice interesting read just not emotionally or intellectually grippingBTW I met Cunningham in 2007 and he signed all my books at the time filling them with personal notes We both went through the Iowa Writer's Workshop so we had thatand other stuffin common He's extraordinarily intelligent and witty; if you hear of a speaking engagement go UPON FURTHER THOUGHTI should add that Whitman was very much an admirer of the common man and the disenfranchised With the characters in all three books minus the maternal detective of he second Cunningham tries to cpture thisWhitman opposed slavery and he was the “American poet” at a time of great upheaval in our country He worked through the Civil War the influx of immigrants into the West for riches that same influx into the Midwest for farmland the changing of the Northeast by pogrom immigration the birth of unions and the start of American anarchy and communist sentiment The idea of the need for uprising and anarchy run through all three stories but I don’t feel Whitman wrote about those political ideas specifically Whitman was interested in true euality of all people including the slaves Maybe Cunningham is saying something about how respect of the common person and the disenfranchised is the start of them respecting themselves leading to their unionizing their uprising Maybe Cunningham is showing how Whitman’s peaceful work can be turns to revolution and violence Maybe Cunningham is showing that there will always be a disenfranchised the handicapped children and – in the future – aliens and androids possiblyWhitman was gay and Cunningham is Cunningham seems to shy from pulling in this aspect Again perhaps that’s on purposeIn short I love leaving a book asking uestions I could’ve asked uestions about the common people the disenfranchised and how great works inspire and goad them throughout time I don’t though The only uestion I don’t like asking at the end of a book is “What the heck was the author intending?” With the disparate styles the unstated disunity of theme and subject I’m asking it here