Michael Cunningham,
A Home at the End of the World
(Picador, 1990)

A little over a third of the way in, Michael Cunningham does a petty bang-up job of summarizing what he's trying to do in 1990's A Home at the End of the World, a follow-up novel to his 1984 debut, Golden States. At this point in the novel, Bobby -- boyhood friend of Jonathan, who is gay -- has just arrived in New York and is getting to know his roommate and living partner, Clare.

"Lovers?" Jonathan said. "We're not. We're just talking about becoming parents."
"Oh," Bobby said.
"Most parents aren't lovers," Clare said. "Mine weren't. Mine were only married, and they didn't care much for one another. At least Jonathan and I are good friends."
"It's the modern age," Jonathan said, half apologetically.

Soon enough, the three move out of their small apartment and into a home in the woods, secluded from society. Welcome to the "modern age," which here includes a straight woman (Clare) attracted to an apparent bisexual man (Bobby) and a gay man (Jonathan); an apparent bisexual (Bobby) attracted to a gay man (Jonathan) but more so with the straight female (Clare) and a gay man (Jonathan) really attracted to the bisexual man (Bobby) and not so much with the woman (Clare). Got all that?

Oh, they also add a kid to the mix, too.

It's a new version of family, illustrated here through the first-person perspectives of its three leads, who alternate turns every 15 pages or so in detailing their daily interactions with one another. They may not gain the social acceptance of their parents, like Jonathan's mother (who also carries a lead voice), but nonetheless they do their best to make it work. And that's what counts, right?

But before we get to all that, we're treated with the boyhood stories of young Bobby and Jonathan, two boys who cling to each other one day in school and then never let go. They hang out together, smoke pot together and, well, play around with their male members together, too.

A Home at the End of the World is an interesting take on the modern definition of family, and how three individuals challenge what society typically labels a home. Though I must say bits of it come off a tad preachy. And I've certainly read better dialogue, which sometimes here is more melodramatic than the particular scene calls for. But all and all a solid read. I downed it in a day.

A movie of the same name, penned by Cunningham, was released in 2004 to little fanfare. Colin Farrell played Bobby, Dallas Roberts played Jonathan, Robin Wright Penn played Clare and Sissy Spacek rounded out the lead cast as Alice Glover, Jonathan's mother.

review by
Eric Hughes

9 January 2009

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