Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Maureen

A Home at the end of the World by Michael Cunningham

Recommended Posts

It is assumed that you have read the book before reading posts in this thread, as the discussion might give away crucial points, and the continuous use of spoiler tags might hinder fluent reading of posts.

 

A Home at the End of the world by Michael Cunningham :

Synopsis:

Cunningham's novel focuses on the close friendship of Bobby and Jonathan. As boyhood friends growing up in Cleveland in the late Sixties and Seventies, Bobby and Jonathan form a relationship that is both average and far beyond what most kids would consider "normal." After high school Jonathan moves to New York City, where Bobby soon follows. They become involved with Clare, a slightly older woman who finds each one appealing in his own way. The rest of the novel centers on their unusual life together. This well-written book has lots of good dialog and will appeal to readers who want something other than the tried and true best seller.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Some questions to consider:

 

1. What do you think of the main characters? How would you describe them?

 

2. Any particular parts that you liked or disliked a lot? That shocked you or that you had to read more than once?

 

3. What do you think of the different friendships going on?

 

4. Do you think any events/circumstances played a major part in shaping the boys' lives?

 

5. Each chapter is narrated by a different 'main' character. Did that work in your opinion?

 

6. What do you think of the descriptions by the author?

 

7. Did you enjoy the book? Will you be reading any more books by Michael Cunningham?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

1. What do you think of the main characters? How would you describe them?

 

Bobby - he loved to feel useful. He was unselfish to the extreme. The first memory he describes is of helping his father pull down Carlton (his brother) when he stands up on the front car seat. His role model when he was younger was his brother, who introduced him to drugs, and to the dream of going to Woodstock. After his brother’s death he was never the same again - his whole family is never the same again. This tragedy in fact robbed him of a family and he substituted his family with Jonathan’s family. In a sense Jon filled Carlton’s place, and Jon’s parents, filled the void left by the loss of his parents. On some level he connected with Alice - both were trying to fit in a place where they felt different and foreign. Bobby was afraid of change - he was ‘pushed out of the nest’ by Alice when they were moving, and he turned back to Jon - his ‘older brother’.

 

All through the book, Bobby’s life is about wanting to please his family. Even when he ‘made a kind of love’ with Jon, he did so more for Jon’s benefit, because he loved him and because Jon wanted to than for his own pleasure. In fact he was not really into sex - neither with a man nor with a woman - he had his first straight sexual relationship at thirty. With either sex Bobby was not the one who started it. When Erich came to visit them in the country Bobby could not sleep, he was thinking about him all the time. When he realised that Clare was leaving with Rebecca, he did not join them as he felt it his job? duty? to look after Erich.

 

Jonathan was the eternally lost person - he always needed to be told what to do - perhaps this was a consequence of having been so close to his mother when young. He talks of his father, whom he loved, the eternal cheerful person who never had a bad word to say about anyone, but with whom he did not have a very strong relationship.

His relationship with his mother was very complex - he was her lifeboat, keeping her sane when the world around her did not make sense to her, she used him to fill her social void. She was his main influence - she kept him with her at all times when he was not at school - ‘they kept each other company’. He tried to imitate her - both in speech and manners, and once even by using her makeup. There he realised that he was ‘not ladylike, but neither was he manly‘. In his opinion there were different ways to be a beauty. He felt different to other kids. When he demanded a doll to play with, his parents bought it for him, and when his father explained that other kids might not understand this, he felt foolish and embarrassed.

 

Claire was the one who did not want to grow old. She had Peter Pan syndrome. Bobby’s first impression of Claire was that she had a wife like relationship with Jon. However she could not have a sexual relationship with Jon, so she had one with Bobby. In her eyes, if Bobby and Jon were mixed into one person , they would have been perfect. She also enjoyed being totally in charge of their sexual relationship. She was in her late thirties and her biological clock was ticking loudly. She was not sure what she wanted in her life. She married in her early twenties and when that did not work out, she started on a relationship with a woman. However she had arrived at a point where she felt she should have a child. This was also apparent when they played the Henderson game - she was the mother. One strange thing that came out later - she was the eternal hippie - but she did not trust a hippie with her daughter (the doctor - Doctor Glass. Jon also mentioned that he did Tai Chi, which he did not think a suitable past time - he would have preferred him to play golf.)

Bobby is the only one to like a person for what they could be, not for how he looks. Appearances never effected him much.

 

I consider Alice as quite a major figure in the book. Her relationship with Jon shaped his character for the rest of his life. She was quite an influence on Bobby as well - she inspired him to start cooking, and he found the necessary strength to open his own restaurant. Her decision to ‘push Bobby out of the nest’ gave him the necessary shove to try to build his own life. She was quite a character - she influenced both boys quite a lot. For some reason or another, I kept waiting for her and Bobby to have a sexual relationship....

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

2. Any particular parts that you liked or disliked a lot? That shocked you or that you had to read more than once?

 

The first time that Alice went into Jonathan's room while they were smoking and she joined them. I did not think she would really do it - so I had to read it twice to make sure.

 

When Alice caught Jon and Bobby having sex in the car. It has to be a really embarrasing situation for any mother, to walk in on your children having sex. There are all sorts of issues that go along with that - age, safety, feelings. Apart from that Alice had to deal with finally acknowledging that Jon was gay - and her thoughts that part of the reason of Jon being gay had to be her fault.

 

I read the bit when Claire and Rebecca left twice as well. I could not believe that Bobby knew what would happen and just do nothing. What kind of person would be capable of that?

 

I hated the bit when earlier Jon left Claire and Bobby without any real explanation. It made me angry and I resented his treatment of them.

 

I enjoyed the bit when Bobby and Jon met again in New York, and that they were a bit embarrassed about how to deal with their sexual past.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I really enjoyed reading this book, though I really have to say that it is not a book I would have ever chosen to read if I wasn't participating in this circle. I was surprised to find that it was a very fast read - once I started I really wanted to know how the story would develop. the character I identify most with is Bobby - in my opinion he is the eternal peacemaker. I find Clare and Johnathan are both as very selfish people... I'll be posting answers to the questions soon

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I must say I would not have chosen it either, but I am glad I read it. It is also quite easy to miss if browsing in a book store - the cover is very insipid.

 

7. Did you enjoy the book? Will you be reading any more books by Michael Cunningham?

 

 

However, as a reply to question 7 above - I enjoyed the book, although it left me with mixed feelings about the whole thing, and I shall read more Cunningham in the not so distant future. In fact I have By Nightfall, The Hours, Flesh and Blood, and Land's End on my never ending tbr pile.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

1. What do you think of the main characters? How would you describe them?

 

Bobby, I feel, is the most selfless of the group, the most ready/willing to adapt. He is constantly seeking a family – after the loss of his brother, his family unit breaks down – his mother kills herself and his father turns to drink. So he “attaches” himself to Jonathan’s family. When his family home is completely destroyed in the fire, he moves in with Jon’s family permanently. When he returns to the site of the burnt house (towards the end of the book), he tries to remember the location of the rooms. He loves playing the Hendersons, and he is the one to suggest that they settle down in the country, which he thinks of leaving as a legacy to his daughter. Bobby lives in “another” world – very often he seems detached from what is going on, however, he gels the group, he is most in tune with what the others are feeling. His previous losses help him cherish what he has.

 

Jonathan is constantly seeking happiness. His mother suffocates him as a child, however, we hardly learn anything about his feelings for her; it was his father he adored. He has fond memories of his father (remembers how he used to carry him on his shoulders, the feeling of his skin, etc) I think Ned was more accpeting of Jon’s sexuality than Alice, who never quite accepted that her son is gay. When Ned and Jon speak in Arizona, it is Ned who sets him thinking about settling down, inviting him to find a “place” where he is comfortable with himself. I’m not sure how to term his relationship with Erich – they see each other for a number of years but they don’t commit to each other. He is terrified of catching his illness, and only at the very end (the pond scene) does he fully accept him. He is quite mean when he first speaks to him (Erich) about his appearance due to his illness.

 

Clare does not want to grow old. Thanks to her inheritance, she can be free to “flow” through life - she doesn’t hold a “solid” job, she floats through relationships... I think she is a very fickle person who wants to have the cake and eat it. She remodels Bobby to her liking, and uses him to get the thing she wants – having a baby before she gets too old. To say her relationship with Alice is stiff is an understatement. Only when she has her child do I manage to associate with her and understand her actions. As a mother she feels her love and sense of protection for her daughter overwhelm her (which she describes as a “monster”). While she cares for Erich, she is only really interested in her daughter’s wellbeing. I understand her decision to move away, even if I don’t completely agree with it.

 

Alice is a bitter lady – she marries in haste to spite her parents, and then she repents at leisure. I cannot understand how she can tell her son that she doesn’t want her baby, the daughter she then looses. She resents any friendship Jon has outside of their own – as a child she keeps him home with her; as an adult she dislikes his friends, in fact she has no good word to say either about Bobby or Clare. I kept expecting her to do something weird (like Maureen I thought she would sleep with Bobby), though I must say the fact that she helps Bobby in his first catering venture “redeems” her in a way...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree - Bobby is the most likable of the lot. Although I found it hard to identify with some of the decisions he makes, he is an eternally selfless being. Having gone through such a turbulent childhood/adoloscence, dealing with the loss of his family and taking drugs through most of his teenage years could have easily made a different person out of him. I am so glad that he was able to lead a the life he did.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

5. Each chapter is narrated by a different 'main' character. Did that work in your opinion?

 

While I usually find this disturbs the flow of a novel, I think that the characters in this book follow each other very seamlessly. I think the story gained perspective through the different narrations – it is such a dynamic story that it needs the different points of view as outlined by the different characters.

 

6. What do you think of the descriptions by the author?

 

The story is full of very detailed descriptions, especially of the setting – I could vividly picture Jon’s and Clare’s flat in NY; and also the alpha alpha field where Jon finally scatters this father’s ashes.

What I found strange is that hardly any female character is described physically, while the males (Ned, Bobby) are given very detailed descriptions (is this always done by Jon?)

 

7. Did you enjoy the book? Will you be reading any more books by Michael Cunningham?

 

As I have already said, it is not a book I would have chosen in a book store, however, I found that the story intrigued me, and I was looking forward to see how the story would develop. While it’s sad that the “family” had to break up, I find it a very apt ending – both the parents want a better future for their child, while Jonathan seems to finally accept his past and future.

I'd like to read The Hours - I'm curious to see how this author will treat a female point of view...

Edited by shirleyz

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

While it’s sad that the “family” had to break up, I find it a very apt ending – both the parents want a better future for their child,

 

 

I cannot understand why Bobby did not want to go with Claire and Rebecca...they could have been a family together....Bobby was not in love with Jon or Erich - so why not leave and go with Claire and Rebecca?.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I cannot understand why Bobby did not want to go with Claire and Rebecca...they could have been a family together....Bobby was not in love with Jon or Erich - so why not leave and go with Claire and Rebecca?.

 

While I understand how hard it must have been to let go, I completely understand his reasoning. He wanted to set them free, in fact he says "Clare has taken Rebecca to the world of the living - its noise and surprises, its risk of disappointment. ... It's where Rebecca should be. ... I've followed my brother into this world and I've never left it..."

He wanted his daughter to live her life independenty from what held him back, he didn't want her life to be prejudiced by her parents' strange household arrangements.

Edited by shirleyz

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So his brother's pull was greater than Rebecca's and Claire's? He could not find it in himself to join the world of the living?

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So his brother's pull was greater than Rebecca's and Claire's? He could not find it in himself to join the world of the living?

He was never quite a part of their life - we hardly see any interaction between him and Clare following the first time they sleep together; there are only undertones which refer to the fact that they are still a "couple". He seems to be more preoccupied with the manual work required with the house and their new restaurant - it's like he has abdicated his fatherly responsibility to Jon, who even Clare admits is better at calming their daughter. It is Jon who keeps refering to Rebecca as "our child" when Clare says "my".

I feel Bobby is always on the sidelines watching on. I was very touched and surprised when towards the end he can see his daughter standing in front of their house which is now her inheritance, in 20 years' time. why is he not there with her? If he's about 32-35 when they leave, he would still be in his 50s by then...

I'm not sure if I'm extrapolating the story, but is it that there is a chance that he is ill too?

Edited by shirleyz

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes it is a possibility isn't it? His two partners had a series of relationships, and during the 80s, protection was not as de rigeur as it is today. I think this is something a lot of people, especially homosexuals, grippled with, twenty or so years ago - the fear and the uncertainty....

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I just finished the book, I will answer the questions as soon as possible :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

3. What do you think of the different friendships going on?

 

Bobby’s and Jon’s friendship developed when they were still in their teens. Both had a different childhood. Jon lost his sister at birth, and Bobby lost his brother who he looked up to and adored. Had Jon’s sister lived, he would not have been the only outlet for his mother, she would have had two people to keep her company and her influence would have been somewhat diluted. Bobby’s family life - and by default his life - changed drastically from the moment his brother died, his parents stopped living as well, and just plodded along until they gave up the struggle. So Jon and Bobby, both different to other kids, both having a dysfunctional family life, found each other and gave each other a family. I also think that during their teenage years, Bobby was somewhat the leader, and Jon used to ‘follow’, but when they grew up and Jon moved to New York and Bobby followed, they reversed roles, with Jon being the leader and Bobby the follower.

 

Jon’s and Claire’s friendship is more complex. I think he finds in her a replacement of his mother to a certain extent - so he exchanged his relationship with his mother with a relationship with Claire, with the added bonus that he was now on a more equal footing in this relationship. Bobby describes Claire’s relationship with Jon as wife-like. However it was even more than that - they could discuss clothes and gossip, and men. They had a great relationship, they were each others’ confidants and soul mates - with out the tension of a sexual relationship. For Claire, Jon was also a potential father for her child….her biological clock was ticking and she wanted a baby. In her opinion, having a baby with Jon was ideal - she was not in love with him, but they were good friends.

 

Bobby’s and Alice’s friendship is perhaps the strangest of all. Alice once said that Bobby made sense to her sometimes. They had both found themselves in a place that was foreign to their nature, and wanted to fit in. At first, Alice’s friendship with Bobby was more of an effort to please Jon than real pleasure in Bobby’s company, however their relationship endured even when Jon left for New York. In the earlier days, Alice was the student - with Bobby and Jon teaching her about music and drugs, and later she was the teacher - teaching Bobby all he needed to know to run his own business. She was concerned about his friendship with Jon, as she thought of him as a person with little intellect and no ambition although sweet and kind.

 

Bobby’s and Claire’s friendship started as Claire took Bobby under her wing. She thought that he had that lost puppy appeal, and made her feel protective of him. She began by re-doing Bobby - his hair, his clothes, different music, new friends. For Bobby, when they started having a sexual relationship as well, he had a real family. For Claire, he filled the post of father to her child, without too much interference on his part.

 

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

3. What do you think of the different friendships going on?

 

Bobby’s and Jon’s friendship developed when they were still in their teens. Both had a different childhood. Jon lost his sister at birth, and Bobby lost his brother who he looked up to and adored. Had Jon’s sister lived, he would not have been the only outlet for his mother, she would have had two people to keep her company and her influence would have been somewhat diluted. Bobby’s family life - and by default his life - changed drastically from the moment his brother died, his parents stopped living as well, and just plodded along until they gave up the struggle. So Jon and Bobby, both different to other kids, both having a dysfunctional family life, found each other and gave each other a family. I also think that during their teenage years, Bobby was somewhat the leader, and Jon used to ‘follow’, but when they grew up and Jon moved to New York and Bobby followed, they reversed roles, with Jon being the leader and Bobby the follower.

 

Jon’s and Claire’s friendship is more complex. I think he finds in her a replacement of his mother to a certain extent - so he exchanged his relationship with his mother with a relationship with Claire, with the added bonus that he was now on a more equal footing in this relationship. Bobby describes Claire’s relationship with Jon as wife-like. However it was even more than that - they could discuss clothes and gossip, and men. They had a great relationship, they were each others’ confidants and soul mates - with out the tension of a sexual relationship. For Claire, Jon was also a potential father for her child….her biological clock was ticking and she wanted a baby. In her opinion, having a baby with Jon was ideal - she was not in love with him, but they were good friends.

 

Bobby’s and Alice’s friendship is perhaps the strangest of all. Alice once said that Bobby made sense to her sometimes. They had both found themselves in a place that was foreign to their nature, and wanted to fit in. At first, Alice’s friendship with Bobby was more of an effort to please Jon than real pleasure in Bobby’s company, however their relationship endured even when Jon left for New York. In the earlier days, Alice was the student - with Bobby and Jon teaching her about music and drugs, and later she was the teacher - teaching Bobby all he needed to know to run his own business. She was concerned about his friendship with Jon, as she thought of him as a person with little intellect and no ambition although sweet and kind.

 

Bobby’s and Claire’s friendship started as Claire took Bobby under her wing. She thought that he had that lost puppy appeal, and made her feel protective of him. She began by re-doing Bobby - his hair, his clothes, different music, new friends. For Bobby, when they started having a sexual relationship as well, he had a real family. For Claire, he filled the post of father to her child, without too much interference on his part.

 

 

 

some good points here mau :D I hadn't thought of the parallel sibling death, and the reversed role between Jon/Bobby is also very interesting. However, I feel that the family relationship between Bobby and Clare started before their sexual one - Clare soon took Bobby under her wing, "remodelled" him to her tastes...

 

some more thoughts coming soon - this is a tough one Mau!!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I feel that the family relationship between Bobby and Clare started before their sexual one

 

Yes I agree. At first when Claire saw Bobby, I felt she looked at him as if he was a hilly-billy from another civilisation, with a mixture of curiousity and disbelief. Then they soon forged a friendship - especially as they had lots of time together in the mornings after Jon left for work. Claire never left home before eleven, and she and Bobby had time to spend together.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

4. Do you think any events/circumstances played a major part in shaping the boys' lives?

 

This story is full of major events which shape the characters’ lives.

Carlton’s short life and violent death definitely helped to form Bobby’s outlook on life, his permanent lightweight feeling, as well as the eventual breakdown and disintegration of his family.

 

Jon’s sexuality was another major factor which shaped the boys’ lives – their relationship together, Alice’s reaction when she finds them together in the car, her lack of acceptance of her son’s lifestyle choice, Bobby’s attitude to love/relationships.

 

Jonathan’s move to New York helped to push Bobby more firmly into his shoes with Alice – Bobby shared Alice’s passion for cooking, which Jonathan was completely disinterested.

 

Erich’s illness – which helped Jon understand his own mortality and his father’s life; the purchase of the house – which gave them a common purpose; Rebecca’s arrival – which anchored them as a family; and finally Clare’s and Rebecca’s departure, which helped them accept their reality…

 

I think this book is full of different instances which effect and shape the boys’ lives – they (especially Bobby) allow themselves to be carried along through life, rather then being proactive about their lives, they react to the different situations as they arise.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Great point everyone :)

 

1. What do you think of the main characters? How would you describe them? ~

 

I found Bobby to be the more focused character of the the trio, despite how he was when he was younger with his drug taking, he is focused, he knew what he liked and what he did not like, who he wanted in his life and once he had that, he was contented, he created this bubble around himself but he let people in, if he felt they should be there.

 

I also found Bobby completely unselfish, he would do anything for anyone, at times, it did annoy Jonathan and Clare but he always felt he was doing the right thing.

 

Jonathan was such a lost soul, he had no direction in his life and he wanted someone to tell him what do with his life, he looks to Bobby to tell him and Bobby can't tell him because Bobby just goes with the flow.

 

Clare strived to be different from anyone else but she was not that different, she wanted the same things as most people, family, a home but when she got them, she did not want them.

 

2. Any particular parts that you liked or disliked a lot? That shocked you or that you had to read more than once? ~

 

I liked the fact that Bobby eventually moved in with Alice and Ned, he was like a substitute son because Alice missed Jonathan and Bobby missed his mother, it was quite a co~dependent relationship but they seemed happy with it to a point (Alice was also encouraging Bobby to leave and have his own life).

 

I disliked the part where Clare leaves, I could understand her reasons but I did not particularly like them, yet again, striving to be different, this time as the bohemian single mother but this would change again because Jonathan and Bobby both knew she would come back.

 

3. What do you think of the different friendships going on? ~

Bobby and Jonathan:

 

Bobby and Jonathan found each other at an important point in their lives, they were both looking for something, Bobby was looking for a substitute for his brother and I think on some level Jonathan was looking for a father substitute because he was looking for answers that his Dad could not provide for him and also Jonathan was coming to terms with his sexuality, and Bobby accepted his sexuality and they both explored their own sexuality.

 

Jonathan and Clare:

 

Jonathan and Clare had an almost mother and son relationship, which Clare seemed happy with but at the same time wishing that she and Jonathan could have a proper relationship, I think on some level she hoped it would change and that Jonathan would see her that way,

 

Clare and Bobby:

 

Bobby was someone for Clare to mould, hopefully into a man that she could love and have children with, which she does, and even though she loves Bobby, she does not seen him as a equal, she treats him like a child in a lot of ways.

 

4. Do you think any events/circumstances played a major part in shaping the boys' lives? ~

I think the loss of Carlton was a major event and it affected Bobby, he looked at it in such a simplistic way, Carlton is here, then he's not but it did affect him because he created a bubble around himself and filled it with friends and music, he felt more in control this way, he could the people around him as safe as possible.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm sorry I'm so late with this, I've had a lot on my plate lately. However, I'm going to finish this today and get busy writing my thoughts on it later on today or tomorrow :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
from Weave (sorry but I seem to have botched up the "quote" function :blush: )

 

I disliked the part where Clare leaves, I could understand her reasons but I did not particularly like them, yet again, striving to be different, this time as the bohemian single mother but this would change again because Jonathan and Bobby both knew she would come back.

 

Really? To me it felt more like they made peace with the fact that it would be just them from now on, just like the beginning... Clare seemed very determined about making it on her own - she would rather face being a single mother than part of a strange household

Edited by Maureen

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

from Weave (sorry but I seem to have botched up the "quote" function :blush: )

 

I disliked the part where Clare leaves, I could understand her reasons but I did not particularly like them, yet again, striving to be different, this time as the bohemian single mother but this would change again because Jonathan and Bobby both knew she would come back.

 

 

Really? To me it felt more like they made peace with the fact that it would be just them from now on, just like the beginning... Clare seemed very determined about making it on her own - she would rather face being a single mother than part of a strange household

 

Hi Shirleyz, how are you? That's a great point, I never really saw it that way, you are right though, it would be easier with just her and Rebecca but she always knew she could go back because nothing would have really changed at the house, it would still be her home. :)

Edited by Weave

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think on some level Jonathan was looking for a father substitute because he was looking for answers that his Dad could not provide for him and also Jonathan was coming to terms with his sexuality, and Bobby accepted his sexuality and they both explored their own sexuality.

 

 

I love the fact that different people see different things in the same book :) Makes for a great debate.

 

I did not think that Bobby explored his sexuality - I felt he rather went with the flow...in fact he only had 2 sexual partners we know of, and they both instigated the sex. In fact he told Claire that he was not sure he could do it, the first time.

 

I also think much of Jon's and Bobby's friendship was because they were both 'strange?' 'different?' children at school - birds of a feather sort of thing

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  



×