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LAND’S END by Michael Cunningham Kirkus Star

LAND’S END

A Walk in Provincetown

By Michael Cunningham

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-609-60907-6

A leisurely walking tour and shrewd exposition of that “eccentrics' sanctuary”—Provincetown, Massachusetts—from Pulitzer-winning novelist Cunningham (The Hours, 1998, etc.).

It sits out in the Atlantic, the barb on Cape Cod's hook, a slip of land “that unfurls like a genie's shoe from the coastline of Massachusetts.” Only three miles long and a couple blocks wide, Provincetown is a world unto itself, intriguingly rendered by Cunningham. He takes his tour guide's responsibility seriously and eagerly, wanting readers to get both the grand and intimate view, animate, inanimate, and subanimate. He describes the wild swings of weather: bleached in August, the fog-muted greens of spring, winter revealing the “dreadful, rock-hard opulence of the world, that which remains when idealism and sentimentality have fallen away.” There are sturdy Baedekers to Long Point and the salt Marsh, the spare tranquility of Hatches Cove, the potent mysteriousness of Snail Road, Herring Cove's nude beach with its “unique opportunity to understand that the female breast is among the more profoundly variable of human wonders.” There is the undeniable sexuality of the place, gay and straight, “an improved version of the world at large, aversion in which sexuality, though always important, is not much of a deciding factor,” where “the Log Cabin Republican not only can't ignore the existence of stone butches but buys his coffee from one every morning.” Cunningham introduces its cast of refugees, rebels, and visionaries—from Mayflower Pilgrims to Robert Motherwell to the lady who walks only backwards—attracted by the exoticism and low rents (or, as viably, low-rent exoticism), and there are everyday notes on the pharmacy and A&P, the places where you can pee without having to buy something, the centers of buxom tawdriness, the Portuguese influence, the miraculous pleasures of watching whales, “green in the blue-green water, shadowy as an X-ray, netted with pallid light.”

And “if I die tomorrow, Provincetown is where I want my ashes scattered.” That's a sense of place called home.