November 6, 1952– Michael Cunningham:
“This is what you do. You make a future for yourself out of the raw materials at hand.”
One of my favorite books of the last decade is By Nightfall, an exquisite, slyly witty, warmly philosophical, urbane tale of the mysteries of beauty and desire, art and delusion, age and love. It was a book that I had to slow myself down with, fighting an urge to find the fate of the narrator and still wanting to savor the luxurious writing on each page. Full of shocks and aftershocks, it made me think and it made me feel deeply about the uses and meaning of beauty along with the place of love and desire in life.
Cunningham is responsible for some of my best reading experiences. I love nothing more than giving myself over to the pleasure of getting lost in a great book. The Hours (1998) transported me in a way that it’s jumping off point, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (1925), never did. The Hours won the Pulitzer Prize, and it was made into a brilliant film in 2002, directed by Stephen Daldry from a screenplay by David Hare, starring Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, John C. Reilly, Stephen Dillane, Jeff Daniels, Miranda Richardson, Allison Janney, Toni Collette, Claire Danes, and Eileen Atkins. The film received nine Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, with a win for Kidman for Best Actress. The film’s score by Philip Glass won the BAFTA Award for Best Film Music and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Score and a Golden Globe Award.
“I wasn’t bookish at all growing up, more skateboard than literary. When I was 15 years old, Mrs. Dalloway was suggested to me by a girl. It was the first great book I ever read. It clicked on a light bulb in my head and turned me around. I had no idea you could do something so beautiful with this language. It was the first [novel] that stayed with me in a way no other book has.“
His novel A Home At The End Of The World (1990) was adapted to an emotionally rich film in 2004 by Michael Mayer from a screenplay by Cunningham. It stars Colin Farrell, Robin Wright, Dallas Roberts, and Sissy Spacek.
You know, The Hours, for all its accolades, isn’t even my favorite Michael Cunningham novel, that would be the amazing three generation family saga, Flesh And Blood (1995). It’s crazy that this absorbing novel has not been adapted to a limited series for Netflix.
I own, and have read all his work, except for Wild Swan (2015), a collection of fairy tales, but it is near the top of my to-be-read-pile on my side of the bed. It all started for me with White Angel, a The New Yorker short story in 1989. I even enjoyed the problematic Specimen Days (2005) which ends with an alien and a reptile having sex. I especially like his slim volume of essays Lands’ End: A Walk In Provincetown (2002).
For me, he is an important, brilliant, elegant and very accessible author, plus Cunningham is a really great-looking, sexy man. He is on the faculty at Columbia University and a lecturer at Yale. In 2012, he broke up with his partner of 26 years, Psychoanalyst Ken Corbett. Cunningham:
“I think I’m fundamentally a boyfriend but for the longest time there was no way I was going to get involved in a relationship. Then, sometime last fall, I felt like, you know what? I can’t date one more silly boy, no matter how cute he is. There’s only one answer, which is to have good friends.”
Currently single, Cunningham lives New York City’s East Village and in Provincetown. He also snagged a rent-controlled apartment in the West Village 35 years ago that he still uses for writing.
“We’d hoped vaguely to fall in love but hadn’t worried much about it, because we’d thought we had all the time in the world. Love had seemed so final and so dull…love was what ruined our parents. Love had delivered them to a life of mortgage payments and household repairs; to unglamorous jobs and the fluorescent aisles of a supermarket at 2:00 in the afternoon. We’d hoped for love of a different kind, love that knew and forgave our human frailty but did not miniaturize our grander ideas of ourselves. It sounded possible. If we didn’t rush or grab, if we didn’t panic, a love both challenging and nurturing might appear. If the person was imaginable, then the person could exist.”