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Flesh and Blood
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The cheers that greeted his literary debut, A Home at the End of the World, will resound again for Cunningham's second novel. Here his prose is again rich, graceful and luminous, and he exhibits a remarkable maturity of vision and understanding of the human condition. The marriage of Greek immigrant Constantine to Mary, the offspring of an Italian clan, is a mismatch of incompatible personalities, a union that is later maintained in a delicate balance between incomprehension and rage. The birth of their three children exacerbates the tension and leaves its indelible mark unto the third generation. When he becomes a partner in a shoddy construction company, Con lifts the Stassos family from near-poverty in Elizabeth, N.J., to a nouveau-riche enclave on Long Island, but his lifelong concern with money, and with exhibiting ``manliness,'' erupts into violent behavior that alienates his only son, Billy, even before the boy realizes that he is a homosexual. Con damages the other children, too; Susan escapes his sexual overtures through an early marriage, and wild, feral Zoe joins the drug culture in New York. Yet Cunningham condemns no one; he understands that Con ``exists in a chaos of yearning . . . [of] love and... hunger and... bottomless grief,'' and he portrays the other characters with equal sympathy. In delineating the story of this disconnected family, each member floating in his or her own sphere of bewilderment, anger, mistrust and fear but inextricably bound to others by flesh and blood, Cunningham illuminates the chasm between parents and children in contemporary America, beginning in the 1970s, when drug use and sexual freedom broke traditional constraints. Both fate and accident determine all of the characters' lives. Con betrays beautiful, distant Mary with his partner's fat, plain secretary‘and ends up married to her. Mary becomes friends with Cassandra, a drag queen who is the godmother of Zoe's illegitimate half-black son. Billy renames himself Will, and finally finds a loving companion. All the characters are fallible and come late to self-knowledge. Cunningham's portraits are so honest and sensitive that we can see into their souls. His prose is both restrained and mesmerizing: individual scenes‘such as one of teenagers in a car wreck‘become incandescent images. In the end, what remains of Con and Mary's failed dreams of their lives and those of their children and grandchildren becomes a transcendent testament to the power of human endurance. 75,000 first printing; movie rights optioned by Tony Ganz/Wolf Productions; author tour. (Apr.)

The story of Constantine Stassos freshly examines the American immigrant experience and conflict between generations. He, wife Mary, and three children Susan, Will, and Zoe seemingly embody solid middle-class values. However, Constantine's cruelty, voracious appetites, and questionable business practices poison his marriage and brutalize his children. Through painful quests for independence, personal balance, and community, the Stassos children learn acceptance of themselves and their siblings. Fairly brief episodes, often occuring years apart, recount key moments in the establishment, disintegration, and reconfiguration of the family. Thoroughly realized action, vivid character delineation, and the splendid control of language guarantee both the unity and powerful impact of this successful novel by the author of The Home at the End of the World (LJ 10/15/90). Very highly recommended.-Jane S. Bakerman, Indiana State Univ., Terre Haute

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