less charming and more strange than your average blog

June 22, 2004

The talented Mr. Cunningham? 

I can only read your website periodically, when SONIC WALL doesn't pop up all blue and angry, letting me know that your site is forbidden and a record of my visit to your site has been created. SONIC WALL is angry and petulant, but also inconsistent. Naked East Indian men? Not a problem. Your site? All that's evil in the world.

But I digress.

I understand you're excited about Michael Cunningham's
A Home at the End
of the World. "It's promising," you write, "unless he sucks at writing

He does. Or at least I'm assuming he will. Just like he sucks at all writing. 'Course, I'm basing this solely on my intense, fever-like hatred of
The Hours, a book title deceptive in its brevity. Years. That novel cost me years. In some ways it feels like I'm still reading it. And I have to pee.

The problem for me is I read
Mrs. Dalloway before I read The Hours. I
wanted to make sure that I was able to plumb Cunningham's richness and not miss any literary allusions. That was a mistake. Virginia Woolf is hands-off so much better of a writer than Cunningham that, when I sadly closed the cover on
Mrs. Dalloway and picked up The Hours, there was no way he could compete.

I take it back. Maybe he could have competed. Only he really, really sucks as a writer. His prose is both leaden and deeply irritating. His variations on a theme sound instead like a 8-year-old with a Casio keyboard and a spastic condition. And he telegraphs far too much. Did you know that women have tough lives? And that they have to make tough choices? And that it's tough to be a woman?

What made
Mrs. Dalloway so amazing was the delicate but sure hand of Woolf, leading us through Clarissa's day and showing us a lifetime in a single day. There's nothing heavy-handed. It's all dreamy and lyrical and lovely. Cunningham is heavy, trenchant, and prone to overtyping.

But maybe you know something different. What is it about Cunningham that you think shows promise, especially in this movie? I'm assuming you enjoyed
A Home at the End of the World. Would you think it was on par with -- or different from (different than? I can never remember) The Hours? I've admired your writing for, well, ever. At least ever since I found your site. And I mostly agree with or at least understand your film critique. But this Michael Cunningham love has me flummoxed.

In closing, the hell?



The word "flummoxed" rules. But anyway.

It's been a while since I read The Hours or A Home At The End Of The World, so after reading your email I took them down off the shelf and flipped through them again to remind myself what made me feel so strongly the first time I read them. Disagreement (for intelligent reasons) is always interesting because it makes you ask yourself why you think the things you do; however, it also scares the crap out of me because I have the hardest time explaining something as intuitive as why I enjoy something like a movie, or a song, or a book. (It's why I don't write more movie reviews.)

Well, I don't believe I know anything different about Michael Cunningham's writing than you do, except that it works for me and it doesn't work for you. To me, his writing style isn't leaden or heavy-handed, it's dreamy and lyrical and lovely the way you described Virginia Woolf's style. After taking a peek at a random page from A Home At The End Of The World, I didn't remember to look up again until 30 pages later. I remember reading The Hours for the first time in one sitting, going back and re-reading nearly every sentence just to experience it again. I don't shut up about these two books because they made me realize for the first time, as unforgivably corny as it sounds, that literature can change your life.

I have to explain how the books affected me because it's the only actual evidence that they're any good (even then, your mileage may vary). I feel that Cunningham's writing touches on truths about the way people think and act that I didn't know language had the capacity to convey. He writes characters with the kind of ugliness to their personality that renders them not ugly, but human. I don't know if you read A Home at the End of the World or gave up on Cunningham after suffering through The Hours, but it's a completely different style of novel, not least because it features an actual plot, and a wider variety of characters. The way the same narrative is written so intimately from four different first-person perspectives amazes me. I still don't know what kind of screenwriter Cunningham is, but his vivid and profound understanding of his characters is what strikes me as promising.

In closing, that's the hell. According to me, anyway.


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