Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham
A Novel

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Synopsis

In each section of Michael Cunningham's bold new novel, his first since The Hours, we encounter the same group of characters: a young boy, an older man, and a young woman. "In the Machine" is a ghost story that takes place at the height of the industrial revolution, as human beings confront the alienating 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 that 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 time or 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 and a meditation on the direction and meaning of America's destiny. It is a work of surpassing power and beauty by one of the most original and daring writers at work today.

 

About Michael Cunningham

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Michael Cunningham is the author of five novels, including By Nightfall, A Home at the End of the World, Flesh and Blood, The Hours (winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer Prize), and Specimen Days. He lives in New York.
 
Published April 1, 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 336 pages
Genres: History, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Children's Books, Literature & Fiction, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Specimen Days

Kirkus Reviews

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The Catherine of “The Children’s Crusade” is “Cat” Martin, a black forensic psychologist employed by NYC’s “Deterrence” squad to profile preadolescent suicide bombers, presumably parentless members of a deranged millennial “family” announcing the apocalyptic “end of days.” Cat forsakes the safety...

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The New York Times

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Whitman isn't a major character in ''Specimen Days,'' as Woolf was in the earlier novel, but Cunningham clearly means him to be present in every word, every line of the book, in the sense the poet intended when he wrote, in ''Song of Myself'': ''I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the gras...

Jun 26 2005 | Read Full Review of Specimen Days: A Novel

The Guardian

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Each novella is in a distinct genre: the story of New York's past is a ghost story, the story of its present (or very near future) is a thriller, and the story of its future is science fiction.

Jul 11 2005 | Read Full Review of Specimen Days: A Novel

The Guardian

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Cunningham creates science-fiction satire akin to that of Philp K Dick as the protagonist, a cyborg of sorts, flees from Infinidot, an internet corporation with governmental powers, while becoming - as perhaps all fictional robots do - more human than humans in the process.

Jul 11 2005 | Read Full Review of Specimen Days: A Novel

The Guardian

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Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days contains three separate stories all set in New York.

Jul 20 2005 | Read Full Review of Specimen Days: A Novel

The Guardian

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Like the feral Luke of the second story, this Simon raises the question of whether humanity is innate, or an attribute acquired through socialisation.

Aug 07 2005 | Read Full Review of Specimen Days: A Novel

The Guardian

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Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham 308pp, Fourth Estate, £14.99 Is Specimen Days a novel, or three novellas loosely threaded together?

Aug 06 2005 | Read Full Review of Specimen Days: A Novel

NPR

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Alan Cheuse reviews Specimen Days, a book by Michael Cunningham. The title comes from Walt Whitman, and Whitman's voice is heard throughout the three novellas that comprise this book.

Jun 07 2005 | Read Full Review of Specimen Days: A Novel

Book Reporter

Simon was engaged to marry Catherine, a seamstress in a sweatshop, when he died, and his 14-year-old brother Lucas is given Simon's job at the same machine to help support his ailing parents.

Jan 23 2011 | Read Full Review of Specimen Days: A Novel

AV Club

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In Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer-winning novel The Hours, three central characters in three different historical periods ponder the same book: Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway.

Jun 14 2005 | Read Full Review of Specimen Days: A Novel

Bookmarks Magazine

Whitney Gould San Diego Union-Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars "All three [novellas] are shot through with the poetry, but more important, the spirit of Walt Whitman, whose soaring optimism and boundless love for everything Human … supplies a heady buoyancy without which these dark, dystopian tales … ...

Jan 03 2008 | Read Full Review of Specimen Days: A Novel

Strange Horizons

But his father survives only with the help of a breathing machine, his mother has been deranged by Simon’s death, so Lucas must take brother Simon’s place in the factory, tending an incomprehensible machine that punches holes in metal plates;

Dec 14 2005 | Read Full Review of Specimen Days: A Novel

New York Magazine

Unexpectedly, in a novel presided over by a lyric poet, Cunningham’s greatest formal advance is in his plotting.

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New York Magazine

“Walt said that the dead turned into grass,” says 12-year-old Lucas, who has just lost his older brother to an industrial accident, “but there was no grass where they’d buried Simon.” Lucas lives in 1870s New York, and he fears that the dawning machine age has made Whitman’s wishful thinking abou...

Jun 05 2005 | Read Full Review of Specimen Days: A Novel

The Austinist

Whitman's existence is all important in this novel, which - like his critically-acclaimed previous work, The Hours - feels more like a group of novellas that happen to share the same themes and kinda sorta the same characters.

Sep 16 2005 | Read Full Review of Specimen Days: A Novel

Reader Rating for Specimen Days
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