SPECIMEN DAYS by Michael Cunningham

Cunningham attempts to capture the spirit of Walt Whitmans’ work Leaves of Grass in this unique tripartite novel.  Inhabiting the past, present, and future, a separate but related cast of characters revolving around a man, woman, and youg boy exhibit Whitman’s idea that “every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”  Each story takes place in New York in different time periods.  The opening story is situated within the period of the Industrial Revolution and looks at humanity’s reaction to this new age of machines.  The middle story, set in the current era, presents a society still dealing with terrorist jitters and explores the dangers of impressionable minds exposed to an irrational group-think mentality.  The final futuristic setting comes full circle in that now we encounter a machine (in the form of a man) musing on the ways of humanity.

This is not a book for the passive reader wanting only to be entertained.  Instead, it demands active engagement.  Having only read through it once as of this writing, I remain intrigued by the work, yet undecided as to my satisfaction with it as a whole.  Parts of it were fascinating, yet others left me unsatisfied and scratching my head in wonder.  Whether that dis-satisfaction arises from the quality of the writing or my inability to connect certain dots is a question that can only be answered following a second reading.


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