Blasts from the Past: A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham (1990)

Cover imageThis is the latest in a series of occasional posts featuring books I read years ago about which I was wildly enthusiastic at the time, wanting to press a copy into as many hands as I could.

Friends are the new family has become something of a contemporary cliché. Perhaps its origins lie in the incredibly successful sitcom that still plays somewhere in the world at every hour, day or night, but reading Michael Cunningham’s lovely, heart-wrenching novel when it was published here in the UK was the first time it came to mind for me. Incidentally, I’ve been rewatching Friends, amazed at how well it’s stood the test of time.

When Jonathan Glover meets Bobby Morrow at high school, he’s desperate to impress and falls more than a little in love but what seems to be the essence of cool to Jonathan is really the stunned, trance-like state of someone in deep shock. Bobby watched his brother die in his mother’s arms after a freak accident. His mother died of an overdose shortly after. Whilst the two boys experiment with sex and drugs, Jonathan’s mother realises that Bobby desperately needs a family and when Jonathan goes to university, Bobby stays behind with the Glovers. In New York, Jonathan meets Clare, spiky and eccentric, with whom he shares an apartment and fantasies of family life. When Bobby joins them, the family is almost complete and the birth of Rebecca makes it so but the country idyll that they build for themselves in upstate New York is at best precarious and finally, blown off course.

Cunningham was relatively unknown here for many years until he wrote his homage to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, The Hours, later made into an award-winning film. I’d like to think that led a few people to this thoughtful, perceptive novel which has stayed with me for such a long time.

What about you, any blasts from the past you’d like to share?

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12 thoughts on “Blasts from the Past: A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham (1990)”

  1. I’ve only read The Hours by this author which I absolutely loved. I’ve not got round to reading more by him but definitely want to, so it’s great to hear how highly you rate this. Lovely review!

  2. I didn’t know Cunningham’s previous work at all—this reminds me a little of The Goldfinch, thematically, with its lost young men in New York… My whole 2023 Great Reread project is an attempt to revisit blasts from the past, so it’s really interesting to read other peoples’ versions of that!

  3. Lovely to remind people of old favourites – and I loved this one too. I’ve now read all of Cunningham’s books, with The Hours, The Snow Queen and Flesh and Blood being my favourites, but he is always so good at communities of people. Have you seen the film of this? I thought it meandered a little, but Colin Farrell was brilliant.

    1. How nice to hear from a fellow fan! I’ve not seen the film having so often been disappointed by adaptations of favourites but I’ll seek it out now. Thank you.

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