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Home (at the End of the World) At Last

September 26, 2008

Michael Cunningham’s name is almost inevitably linked with three things: his third novel, The Hours; the Pulitzer Prize he won for that novel; and the Academy Award-winning movie adapted from it. It’s understandable: a great book, with a great following. But I’ll admit that it’s not the first thing I myself think of. Instead, I remember a great novel by him I read in a class during my MFA years: A Home at the End of the World.

The book is uneven — even messy in places. It’s a first novel, with all of the excesses and missteps that often accompany such a debut. But it also has some of the great ambition and heart of a first novel, and its lyrical study of families and childhood friendships and romantic relationships completely won me over when I read it. In class, I couldn’t help but agree with many of the reactions to it: Yes, some of those supposedly alternating narrators sound the same; yes, the book loses momentum and power in the final section. But still, don’t you wish that your own novel(s) could reveal even half that mastery of language and character and storytelling?

Cunningham is the guest of honor at Fall for the Book Friday night, and while my fiancée Tara will be ready with her copy of The Hours, I’ll have my copy of A Home at the End of the World in hand — celebrating not only the chance to meet one of the nation’s truly great authors but also the end of a long week and a long (and exciting!) festival. I have to admit: As great as the week has been, it’ll be good to get done and get home myself. 

In the meantime: The final day’s events. 

SCHEDULE FOR FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 26

12 p.m. — Poets Jennifer Chang, Kyle Dargan and Kevin McFadden
Provident Bank Tent, Outside Johnson Center (RAIN VENUE: Dewberry Hall)
An afternoon of poetry features the rising stars of the University of Georgia Press, including Chang, author of The History of Anonymity; Dargan, author of Bouquet of Hungers; and McFadden, author of Hardscrabble.

3 p.m. — Journalist Robert Jensen
Gold Room, Johnson Center
A noted scholar of gender, media, and power explores the role of masculinity in today’s society through the lens of his latest book, Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity.

3:30 p.m. — Novelist Porter Shreve
Provident Bank Tent, Outside Johnson Center (RAIN VENUE: Dewberry Hall)
This native Washingtonian reads from his third novel, When the White House Was Ours, set in 1976 and loosely based on his own childhood, in which he and his family started an alternative school called “Our House Is a Very, Very, Very Fine House.” A 3 p.m. reception precedes the event.

5 p.m. — Poet Linda Bierds
Festival Tent, Outside Johnson Center (RAIN VENUE: Dewberry Hall)
Highly acclaimed poet Linda Bierds samples works from her seven volumes of poetry on the eve of her forthcoming collection, Flight: New and Selected Poems.

7 p.m. — Breakthrough Poet Reading
Firehouse Grill, 3988 University Drive, Fairfax, VA
Celebrate the new and the nouveau in poetry with Karen Anderson, Dan Beachy-Quick, Suzanne Buffam, and Srikanth Reddy, and then stay on for drinks and food or meander out into the newly renovated downtown City of Fairfax.

7:30 p.m. — Novelist Michael Cunningham
Harris Theater
Cunningham, Pulitzer Prize-winner for The Hours and author of A Home at the End of the World, Flesh and Blood, and Specimen Days, accepts the 2008 Fairfax Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Literary Arts, celebrating an author whose works have contributed significantly to American or international culture. A 6:30 p.m. reception precedes the event.

 
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