I finished my first book of the Nine Books for ’09 challenge a few days ago. It was Flesh and Blood by Michael Cunningham. I completely fell in love with Cunningham as I was reading The Hours, which is just a really great book with such a twist! Eventually I’ve been very slowly working my way through his other books, but that one is still my favorite by far.
Flesh and Blood covers 100 years and three generations of the Stassos family, beginning with Constantine, who is a boy on a farm in Greece who ultimately moves to America, marries an Italian girl, has a few kids and makes his fortune building substandard homes for all those other immigrants who want to live the American dream in the 1960s and ’70s.
Constantine has a temper and takes his failings out on his children, particularly his son, Billy, who he always believes is trying to make him feel stupid, and beautiful Susan, who marries young in part to get away from him.
It seems like everyone in the story is trying to escape something, from their past to their current family life, the traditional roles of family and sex to the painful idea of growing old alone.
This was my book chosen for its cover (though it also fits in the used, awards, and in my house more than three years categories), and I’m still not sure I understand it. There are pictures of people with wings, and one has a sort of crosshatch on it like someone’s pointing a gun at the wings. I think it has something to do with that idea of escape, and that no matter how hard we try we can’t get away from our pasts and the things that shaped us.
There are some dramtic twists in this story, but most of them feel inevitable — you see them coming before they get there, unlike in The Hours, which completely surprised me, anyway. But still you don’t want to turn away, you want to see how the characters react, if they can finally do better or really confront what’s happening in their lives. That doesn’t really happen, but it’s still an interesting story and has a lot to say about family, both the ones we came from and the ones we choose to make for ourselves, and though love certainly doesn’t come anywhere close to conquering all, it does make life a little easier.