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Michael Cunningham talks about ''Specimen Days''

Michael Cunningham talks about ”Specimen Days” — In his 2005 book, the Pulitzer-winning author sticks with three mutating characters and tries his hand at reptile romance

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I really had to struggle when I wrote this new book to maintain my recklessness,” says Michael Cunningham of Specimen Days, his follow-up novel to 1999’s Pulitzer winner The Hours. Listening to him talk about Days, which consists of a period ghost story, an early-20th-century thriller, and a futuristic sci-fi yarn (all interconnected and featuring the same three ”mutating” characters) — it sounds like he’s succeeded. ”In the first story,” Cunningham explains, ”the woman character is a suddenly widowed Irish immigrant in New York in 1865. In the second story, she’s a forensic psychologist trying to track down a band of child terrorists — children who are terrorists, that is, not people who terrorize children. And in the third, she is a four-and-a-half-foot-tall lizard from another planet. It’s not anything I’ve written before. That’s what I mean about retaining your recklessness and continuing to try and move forward and not write that successful book over again.” But really — a four-and-a-half-foot lizard? ”And it’s a love story between this lizard woman and a man from earth,” Cunningham adds. ”It was, Okay, I’ve done gay, but this is my first attempt at interspecies, interplanetary love.” Is Cunningham crazy? ”Oh, I think that all the time,” he laughs. ”To me the only interesting work comes out of skating close to the edge. Something I wanna read always flirts with disaster.”

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Books of 2005, bow before your master: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, due July 16, will be the best-selling tome of the year. What else awaits? In March, Ian McEwan will follow up his masterful Atonement with Saturday, which traces 24 hours in the life of an upper-crust British neurosurgeon and vaguely evokes 9/11. That tragedy gets bigger play in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, in which Everything Is Illuminated breakout Jonathan Safran Foer introduces us to a boy-genius 9-year-old whose father died in the Twin Towers. Another wunderkind, The Devil Wears Prada whistleblower Lauren Weisberger, returns in September with — yep, this is the title — The Bouncer Wears Dolce, about an event planner in New York City. ”This book doesn’t suck,” promises James Frey, the author of My Friend Leonard, a spring memoir follow-up to his sensational A Million Little Pieces. Meanwhile, ”I’ve got a book called Don’t Eat This Book coming out in May,” reports Morgan Spurlock, who’s writing all the stuff about ”obese America” that he couldn’t get into in his hit doc, Super Size Me. And one of the all-time greats, A Prayer for Owen Meany author John Irving, publishes Until I Find You,a novel about a Hollywood actor, a tattoo artist, and the search for a lost father. It’s in bookstores in July.