One lazy Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago The Man and I watched a strange little film about two boys who grow up together in Cleveland, migrate to New York, meet a girl, and move to the country to raise a child and run a cafe. Sweet and sad, it was one of those films that haunted me for days and I was thrilled to learn it was also a book, better yet, a Michael Cunningham book.
The plot is similar to the film, with the narrative split between the four main characters: Jonathan, his friend Bobby, their New York roommate Clare and Jonathan’s mother. However, the book focuses more directly on Jonathan and his journey from an adolescent experimenting with sex and drugs in suburban Cleveland in the 1970s, his mixed fear of and desire for a relationship with the threat of AIDS lurking in 1980s New York and playing parent to another couple’s child in the early days of the 1990s.
In a sentence, it’s a book about confused relationships, loneliness and a need to connect that we can’t always satisfy.
The language is fall-at-Cunningham’s-feet divine, though I felt it lacked the cohesiveness and polish of The Hours (the only other one of his books I’ve read). A Home at the End of the World is Cunningham’s second novel and it reads as though he’s still learning to tame his talent. But that’s not to say it doesn’t make for a wonderful, meditative and melancholy little read.
Meanwhile in real life
As per my last post, the year got off to a rocky start and I began reading A Home at the End of the World while back in Radelaide for my grandfather’s funeral.
Papa was a very humble man who achieved great things. To me he was the friend who walked with me to the park near his house in autumn so I could play with the giant, crunchy leaves. He also passed a love of gardening and reading down to my dad and then to me. When I picture him, I see him in a faded flannel hat scooping leaves from the pool or else reading in his study beside a pile of books as high as his chair. He had a passion for historical biographies.
But he was also a World War Two fighter pilot who ended up in a POW camp, survived and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour (the French liked him well enough to knight him). He was brave in a way I can’t even really comprehend. He returned home to study law, founded a law firm with a group of uni buddies and went on to become one of the first South Australian family court judges. He also married a woman he really loved, raised six kids and had eleven grandkids. He loved golf and travel. When I last spoke to him at Christmas he was halfway through a six-hundred-page book and taking twice daily walks – not bad for a man of 91.
There were so many people at the funeral – the entire church was full – and it made me think: this is what it means to live a good life, to have made a difference in the lives of an entire hall full of people. I have some mighty big shoes to fill.
I came back to Melbourne with new energy, determined to be a better writer, editor, student, girlfriend and friend. And the year has been steadily improving since. We got the magazine to the printers and I’m super proud of this issue, even though it was a mega stress to get out. I’ve been working hard on my thesis – the end may actually be in sight. Two more friends from Rads have migrated our way and Alex has been awesome.
Best of all, I arrived home to find a little surprise waiting for me. Alex, sneaky boy, did a fair bit of running around that morning, so when I opened the living room door I was greeted by an array of animal toys, the pungent smell of kitty litter and THE CUTEST GODDAMN KITTEN I’VE EVER SEEN!!! Her name is Hurricane (Hurri for short) and she’s a little terror, but I love her so frickin’ much it’s insane.
I finished this book with a little cat purring on my lap and so much to look forward to. Next on the list is Amber Dermont’s The Starboard Sea. It’s a thesis read, so expect much nitpicking.
Things that made my heart go BOOM!
– Introducing Hurricane Hender: cutie pie, zombie cat and brave explorer