” ‘Is there anything you couldn’t do?’
‘I couldn’t be alone.’ ” (A Home at the End of the World)
Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Cunningham’s second novel, the 1990 A Home At the End of the World is a lyrical, beautiful novel that I listened to on audiobook while travelling.
Set in the 70s and 80s, Jonathan and Bobby are best friends growing up in Cleveland, listening to music, smoking pot, and struggling to understand and fit in to their own families. Bobby’s family has never been the same since the tragic death of his brother, and Jonathan has never really understood his mother or her relationship with his father. We follow their relationship from their boyhood to adulthood, when they eventually end up living together in New York with Jonathan’s friend Clare. Bobby, who had been living with Jonathan’s parents Ned and Alice after the death of his own father, eventually moves in with Jonathan after Ned and Alice move to Arizona. Bobby and Clare fall in love, and the three of them form a modern family, creating their own imperfect home. The narration alternates between Jonathan, Bobby, Clare and Alice.
A Home at the End of the World translated beautifully to audio, especially since it was read by the actors who portrayed the characters in the movie. Cunningham is the master of the alternating narrator, using the technique to build suspense and mark the passage of time. The first thing anyone notices when reading (or listening) to Cunningham is how rich his prose is. I am regularly floored by the way Cunningham describes things, the way his prose sounds like poetry. It’s some seriously beautiful stuff, and if I had been reading this instead of listening, I would have read and reread countless passages and had plenty to share with you.
I was completely engrossed in this story: the characters, though completely selfish and frustrating, were fascinatingly realistic. They were so fully realized, I thought of them as real people. I especially loved Jonathan; he was the most believable and the most sympathetic.
I guess if I had any qualms about the novel, it was the ending. Something big happens at the end, and I did not understand Bobby and Jonathan’s near indifference. I was expecting at least another 50 pages (or 20 minutes) . In any case, definitely not enough to stop me from recommending either the book or audiobook. It was really beautiful. I loved it.
89% – Undeniably beautiful prose, believable characters, a unique story.
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Edit: Did not win the Pulitzer! The Hours did. Thanks CB 🙂