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29 Jun 2005

Local Fame! and An Open Letter to Michael Cunningham.

Written by sally @ 9:36 am — Section: sally

First, do y’all read Defamer? Today you should. Hop on over there, check out the first bulleted list, and click on the Tom Cruise v. Nazi Menace link. Cool, huh?

In other news, excuse me while I write a letter to Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours and Specimen Days.

Dear Michael Cunningham,

I’ve been trying to read your latest novel for a week now. I just don’t think it’s going to happen. Don’t blame yourself: it’s not you, it’s me. Really. I thought things were going to work out between us when I read The Hours, because I really loved it, and I loved the movie, too (despite Nicole Kidman’s much-lauded nose). I thought to myself, this Michael Cunningham, he’s really something.

And then the other day I was at the public library, and our public library never has anything new or good, and when I saw Specimen Days on the shelf I got really excited. I felt like I’d won something.

I didn’t read the bookflap for the same reason I don’t read movie reviews until I’ve seen the movie: I wanted the experience to be fresh. I’d heard Walt Whitman was involved, in sort of the same way Virginia Woolf was involved in The Hours. And look: I love Walt Whitman. I love him so much I have a bust of him in my office. I’ve taken a cue from Dead Poets Society and call him Uncle Walt.

But here is the thing — again, it’s not you, it’s me — I am not really all that fond of books where people’s brothers have just been eaten by the massive metal-plate-stamping machinery at their workplaces, and everyone is starving and I get the vague sense that the main character might be retarded or deformed but there’s no additional information regarding that, and the same character doesn’t really know how to talk normally, so instead he recites Walt Whitman lines when people are trying to have normal conversations with him:

Catherine said, “Was it dreadful there?”
Lucas answered, “The machinist rolls up his sleeves, the policeman travels his beat, the gate-keeper marks who pass.”
“Please, Lucas,” she said, “speak to me in plain English.”
“The foreman said I did well,” he told her. (p. 22)

Ok, so if that’s not bad enough, there are descriptions like this:

His father made noises while he ate, ordinary slurpings combined with low moans, as if feeding were painful to him. He lifted a spoonful of cabbage to his mouth. A pallid green string dangled from the spoon. He slurped, moaned, and swallowed. He took a breath, then ate again. (p. 39)

I like the minute attention to detail, really. But this is too much for me. I am not the sort of person who can really appreciate slurping and moaning and pallid green strings. If this means I just don’t “get” you, ok.

I hope we can still be friends. I just don’t think Specimen Days is the book for me. Especially now: I just read the bookflap, and found out that there are three main parts: the part with the industrial revolution, a noir thriller, and then — gag — New York City in the year 2150. DEAR LORD.

Take care,

7 Responses to “Local Fame! and An Open Letter to Michael Cunningham.”

  1. gorjus said:

    Oooh, yeah. All the lit-crit folks are trying so hard not to say “science fiction,” or to qualify it in a way that makes it “better” than, well, sci-fi. But they ain’t doing too well.

  2. vendela said:

    wow gorjus! you is famous!!! congrats!

  3. liz said:

    oh no, that doesn’t sound good. at all.

  4. sally said:

    I was hanging in there until the slurping and moaning. Then I skimmed the next 15-20 pages, nothing but misery (and more WW lines) happened, so it’s officially over.

  5. vendela said:

    i choked tea up my nose reading this:

    then — gag — New York City in the year 2150. DEAR LORD.

    i totally agree, and it’s why it really hard for me to read any science fiction at all, unless is really old. and by that i mean, i can read and totally love vonnegut and orwell, but that’s because they wrote about what they thought the future would be like a long time ago, and we’ve already surpassed their imaginings. i’m just not creative enough, i guess, to enjoy the current sci-fi.

  6. gorjus said:

    Well, I was a BIG Wm. Gibson dork for a while (CEO: I’ve still got your copy of Idoru! Uh, now for what, three years? Sorry), and that was the kind of stuff I thought was sooo cool when I was in my teens–the advent of the “cyber” world, the ability to gain massive tomes of information with an “upgrade” to your brain . . .

  7. jp~ said:

    saw war of the worlds. it was awwesome.