One of my spies at Book Expo in New York — actually, he’s your spy too — tells me that freelance book reviewer John Freeman, sitting on a book panel on the subject of book embargoes, mentioned his “trouble getting a copy of the new Cunningham.” And it does seem that we haven’t heard very much about the book, called Specimen Days, which was just published today. Or, at least, not as much as we would expect to hear for an author as popular as Cunningham.
Because Cunningham is in Chicago on Sunday, speaking with Victoria Lautman in her great “Writers on the Record” series, I thought it might be useful to collect some of the early coverage available on the web.
In New York Observer (via Max), David Thomson gives the book a rave, calling it a “transforming book, the lovely, tattered record of our time and place,” a “a fantasia on New York, a symphony full of dread and delight,” and “an extraordinary book, as ambitious as it is generous; and the depth of its kindness, or grace, is to convey that it is we ourselves, the multitude, who are extraordinary, or might be.”
In New York magazine, Caleb Cain notes that the three stories composing the novel represent three different genres: “a ghost story, a neo-noir tale, and a turn at science fiction.” While finding the book not wholly successful, Cain says Specimen Days is “exactly the kind of bold experiment that a novelist who takes his art seriously ought to make.” Further, the book’s experimentation with three different genres shows Cunningham’s skill with plot and “brings his prose a new energy.”
In the literary journal The Ruminator, Oliver Broudy is less enthused. According the Broudy, the structure of Specimen Days seems “mere novelty”: “It feels less like a novel than a lab experiment.” None of the three stories, according to Broudy, feels strong enough to stand on its own. Still, “if publishing this experiment means that Cunningham will now be able to get on with the job of being a writer free from the distraction of his previous blockbuster, then perhaps it will all be worth it.”
Finally, in an interview in the Advocate (via Obliquity), Cunningham talks a bit about how his ideas for the novel evolved. “I wanted to work with genre. What was really interesting to me was what some of the various genres, like ghost stories and thrillers and science fiction stories, are telling us about human life and mystery. It’s time to reconsider redrawing the boundary lines in literature and consider the notion that some of the thinly veiled autobiographies in the serious literature sections are not nearly as deep and interesting and adventuresome as some of what’s across the aisle in the science fiction section.”
Interesting stuff. Cunningham’s Chicago appearance is free, but reservations are required. (Info here.) The interview is also broadcast on WFMT.
By the way, I was delighted to learn that Lautman’s series, which began this year, will back in the fall with a new roster of guests, including Bret Easton Ellis, Louise Erdrich, and Frank McCourt. Good news!
ADDITION 6/7: Missed one: Meghan O’Rourke reviews the book for Slate today (via The Page). Count her among the dissenters: “There is an obvious irony in the fact that Walt Whitman serves as the muse for what is finally a rather cautious, conservative novel.”