I am in love with Michael Cunningham. Or at least his writing. I finished his novel Flesh and Blood about five minutes ago. I read the vast majority of it today. I was not so much gripped as consumed by its story and elegant prose. This book has been on the bookshelf downstairs for well over a year, given to my father by a friend. He had suggested that I read it before, but I had not. 'Til the day before yesterday. I'm glad I did.
The first thought which occurred to me was a comparison between his writing and Cormac McCarthy’s. Maybe it is just because they are both American and contemporary, but both books had a similar effect on me. Their styles and subjects are vastly different. McCarthy’s prose drifts out, forming elaborate descriptions of the physical environment, while with deft strokes Cunningham convincingly portrays his characters and their relationships. He writes in a way that makes it seem as if I’ve always seen the world as he is telling it. His writing seems like something simpler than a simile, as if he knows a way to describe things as they are.
I don’t know why I enjoyed this book as much as I did, there is no plot to speak of. There is no principal hero, there are no stunning revelations or lessons well learned. The book follows the Stassos family through almost four generations. It illustrates the relationships between each family member from different points of view. Cunningham weaves such a wide tangle of connections, that it is hard to discern any distinct message from the book. I feel however as if there has been some knowledge acquired through reading it. The suggestions are so subtle and so similar to the complex fables thrown to us in real life, that it is easy to believe the feelings evoked are wonderfully deliberate.
Maybe this book is about the generation gap and The All American Family. Or maybe it is about people, and how they see other people. Maybe it is about love and the corollary emotions that go with love: disappointment, worry and anger. Maybe it’s about history repeating itself and how children make their parents. Maybe I don’t know what it’s about, but I know that it was worth reading, and that that feeling in itself is enough.