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FLESH AND BLOOD by Michael Cunningham


by Michael Cunningham

Pub Date: April 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-374-18113-6
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 Cunningham (At Home at the End of the World, 1990) adds a gay spin to the dysfunctional family genre with a novel that typically blames Mom and Dad, especially Dad, for everything that goes wrong. Moving through time with the speed of a spinning calendar in an old movie, Cunningham takes the Stassos family from 1935 to 2035, when Jamal, the only surviving grandson, scatters the ashes of Uncle Will Stassos and his lover Harry on the ocean. In between, the Stassoses experience all the psychic and physical ills that afflict the American family in the late 20th century--ills that, with few exceptions (AIDS being the rare one), are caused by the family itself, beginning in Greece with the beatings eight-year-old Constantine Stassos receives from his father. As soon as he can, Constantine flees to the US, where, in 1949, he meets Mary, daughter of Italian immigrants. The two soon marry; three children, Susan, Billy, and Zoe are born; and a lucky meeting with a fellow Greek, also working in construction, leads to affluence and middle- class respectability--but not to happiness, as the family rapidly falls apart. Mary increasingly avoids Constantine, who in turn seeks comfort from adolescent Susan, who as soon as possible marries Todd, whose major fault seems to be that he's decent, works hard, and wants to help others. Billy fights with his father, changes his name to Will, and comes out of the closet. Baby Zoe heads to New York, where she takes drugs, hangs out with Drag Queen Cassandra (the only credible character here), and bears Jamal, whose father is an African-American. Mary and Constantine divorce, but life won't get much better for them or their kids. Only Will will find true love. Stock characters and equally stock situations do little to help a breathless tale that, despite its gay sympathies, is just an old-fashioned melodrama in contemporary drag. (First printing of 75,000; Author tour)