Saturday, August 19, 2006

A Home at the End of the World--A Book Review

Reading Michael Cunningham’s prose is like eating an exotic designer ice-cream. The creamy texture of it fills you with a sweet comfort that contains chewy metaphors which release startling bursts of flavor and successive ‘Ahs!’ And all of this is just the delivery mechanism for a story that is full of complex characters in complex relationship with each other, their culture, their environment and their own selves. This is only the second of Cunningham’s novels that I’ve read and I can’t get enough. I read The Hours several months ago after watching the DVD of the movie made from it. (I posted a review of the book here at the time.) I am so glad there are at least two more of his novels in my local library.

In A Home at the End of the World, Cunningham he explores the contours of loss and grief and the individual’s often fumbling self-construction out of the rubble and chaos left by life-events out of one’s control. The distinct voices of four major characters in alternating chapters tell their stories and in the process evoke the changing cultural landscape of America as it morphs through the sixties and into the early nineties. Not one of the four narrators are entirely trustworthy as their already naturally limited vision has been distorted by pain, anger and fear. But the layering of their observations--sometimes confirming, sometime contradicting another’s view--creates a world the reader can inhabit like a dream and come away believing that, not only do they have four new acquaintances whom they know as intimately as themselves, they know their own selves better and see their own world through new eyes. And along with the characters, one comes to understand that the elusive sense of safety, acceptance and well-being encompassed by the concept of ‘home’ is not a place but a state of mind.

It irks me to no end to think that, because this novel (as well as The Hours) deals with the issues of gender-identity, sexual-orientation and so-called alternative life-styles, many would turn from it in disgust, denying themselves the enriching experience of knowing these characters. Yet others would deny me and everyone else the right to choose to be exposed to them and their author the right to tell his truth from his center. Fie on them, I say. Fie!

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