Today’s review: A Home at the End of the World
Author: Michael Cunningham
Number of Pages: 343
From Michael Cunningham, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hours, comes this widely praised novel of two boyhood friends: Jonathan, lonely, introspective, and unsure of himself; and Bobby, hip, dark, and inarticulate. In New York after college, Bobby moves in with Jonathan and his roommate, Clare, a veteran of the city’s erotic wars. Bobby and Clare fall in love, scuttling the plans of Jonathan, who is gay, to father Clare’s child. Then, when Clare and Bobby have a baby, the three move to a small house upstate to raise “their” child together and, with an odd friend, Alice, create a new kind of family. A Home at the End of the World masterfully depicts the charged, fragile relationships of urban life today.
Michael Cunningham’s A Home at the End of the World follows the story of three friends, three lovers, and three non-conformers to the social boundaries of acceptance in 70s and 80s society. Jonathan is sheltered; doted upon by his possessive mother; isolated from the dangers and wonder of the outside world. He possesses habits that would not otherwise be considered “normal” in such an unforgiving society; he prefers playing with dolls and trying on his mother’s makeup to activities usually taken up by other boys of five. A few years later sees Jonathan starting seventh grade. It is there that he meets Bobby. Bobby is the poster boy for what Jonathan’s mother had been protecting him from; heavy with burden, high on drugs, not…. “all there”. And Jonathan finds himself falling in love. After graduation, Jonathan and Bobby grow distant. Jonathan moves to New York to attend college, and Bobby stays in Jonathan’s former home in Cleveland with Jonathan’s parents, who took him in after his father passed away.
New York city finds Jonathan writing a food column for a newspaper and sharing an apartment with the colourful-yet-haunted Clare. Although openly gay, Jonathan shares a deeply emotional and loving relationship with Clare, and the two plan to have and raise a baby together.
Re-united through fate, Bobby moves into Jonathan and Clare’s apartment, and soon finds himself to be Clare’s lover and later the father of her child. All three friends are in love with one another, but Jonathan, seeing himself as the third wheel in the relationship, decides to move on.
Jonathan, Bobby and Clare meet again, brought together over a series of tragic events and on impulse, decide to buy a house together and raise the child that all three of them claim to own. All in love with one another, Bobby, Clare and Jonathan form a new and unusual kind of family and create for themselves a home in which to live.
A Home at the End of the World was beautifully written. It was deep, intimate, and intensely real. But it was very, very slow.
You know how books are meant to have story arcs? Like, a build up to a climax, or a series of these? Well, in this book, they were more like speed bumps. The story was like travelling on a long, straight road, and every “major event” that happened in the book was really not very big; like small bumps in the road. Not very exciting, and didn’t have any huge impacts on the story.
But it was very real. The characters were exquisite and the most unique people I have ever read about. Michael Cunningham must have incredible insight into human psychology, because he could expertly enter the minds of each of his main characters and pick out their flaws, highlight their best qualities, accentuate their struggles, and avoid any generic stereotypes. Each character was totally individual, and none of them felt like the “same-old” characters that appear far too frequently in contemporary romance novels.
Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character. There were some characters, like Jonathan’s mother Alice, that I initially didn’t particularly like, mostly because of the way each of the other characters viewed her personality and nature. But this was because they were outsiders, and didn’t have an understanding of the workings of her mind and why she does things the way she does. But when Cunningham introduced chapters written from Alice’s perspective, I really grew to like her, now that I had been enlightened to her point of view of the world.
In this novel, there’s no defined “bad guy”. Each character feels as human and as real as the reader, and by giving each character such life, it’s really hard to view any of them as annoying or dislikable or evil. I personally shipped Bobby and Jonathan since their first meeting, and I thought that when Clare appeared, that I would hate her throughout the whole novel for intruding on their relationship. But I didn’t. I actually loved her so much. I loved her quirks, her humour, her patient understanding, and her diversity. I even related to her a little; we use some of the same words when addressing people, like “darling”, “dear”, and “sweetie”. Not in like, a patronising way, but in a “you are a lovely person and I will address you as such” way.
I did find this book very slow, and because it was basically just following the, well, slightly-less-than-ordinary lives of the characters, there wasn’t a lot in the way of gripping rising action or dramatic climaxes. I’ll admit that I mainly liked it for the diversity of the characters. Cunningham was very, very good at delving into the intimate and unusual lives of his characters, but there is definitely room for improvement in the gripping story department.
I’ll recommend it for patient readers, but for those who are a little tired of the run-of-the-mill romance characters, this one might also be for you.