The Writers PBS Series
Sunday, October 14, 2001
Michael Cunningham's novel The Hours (1998), a fictional homage to Virginia Woolf, is one of the most widely-praised books to appear in recent years, earning both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. "An exquisitely written, kaleidoscopic work that anchors a post-modern world on premodern caissons of love, grief and transcendent longing," said Richard Eder in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "[Cunningham] has produced a work of dramatic humanity at a high and poetic level." A smashing literary tour de force and an utterly invigorating reading experience," said Ann Pritchard in USA Today, "If this book does not make you jump up from the sofa, looking at life and literature in new ways, check to see if you have a pulse."
The Hours takes its inspiration from two sources, the life of Virginia Woolf and her landmark novel Mrs. Dalloway. The novel tells the stories of three women: Woolf herself on the day of her suicide, and on an ordinary day in June 1923; the fictional Sally Brown, a suburban L.A. housewife in the midst of planning a birthday party for her husband in 1949; and the fictional Clarissa Vaughn, who plans a party for her former lover Richard Brown in present-day New York. All three women attempt to fend off madness and despair. The novel follows the structure of Mrs. Dalloway, weaving the separate stories together in surprising ways.
Michael Cunningham described the beginning of his infatuation with Mrs. Dalloway in a Publishers Weekly interview: "My introduction to Woolf's work. . was in high school, where a very rough, difficult, slightly crazed girl with teased hair and long fingernails, who used to hang around the gym and smoked cigarettes, proclaimed her to be a genius." Cunningham, "not an especially bookish kid," in his view, picked up Mrs. Dalloway at the local bookstore and just nailed me; I've thought about it almost constantly ever since."
Michael Cunningham's earlier novels include Flesh and Blood (1995), A Home at the End of the World (1990) and Golden States (1984). His work often shows a preoccupation with redefining the American family in an age of divorce, same-sex relationships, AIDS, room-mates and improvisatory domestic arrangements. The Boston Globe said, "Novels don't come more deeply felt than Michael Cunningham's extraordinary four-character study [A Home at the End of the World]...The writing is a constant pleasure. . ." The San Diego Tribune said, "Once in a great while there appears a novel so spellbinding in its beauty and sensitivity that the reader devours it nearly whole. . .Such a book is Michael Cunningham's A Home at the End of the World."
Michael Cunningham was a guest at the NYS Writers Institute on April 18, 2001.