FLESH AND BLOOD
Michael Cunningham writes old home movies. But he doesn’t just do the Norman Rockwellian, Super-8 moments that jerk along soundlessly. He dubs in the internal soundtrack of Dolby Surround Sound pain, disappointment, and yearning that everyone in the family remembers-each in a unique way-as the Easter egg hunt dissolves into the football homecoming ceremony into the traditional church wedding.
In Cunningham’s new, achingly accurate novel, Flesh and Blood (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $22), we witness 100 years of Stassos family life through the eyes of three generations founded on the American dream of a Greek immigrant named Constantine. A construction worker, he settles in Newark and falls in love with an Italian-American working-class girl named Mary. Together, they get the house in the ‘burbs with two working fireplaces and 38 windows. They also get the requisite three kids. But they don’t get to see their dream come true. Constantine is an inarticulate ”chaos of yearning,” and Mary shoplifts cheap things she could afford to buy. Their eldest daughter, Susan, is a homecoming princess who marries early to escape the kisses that comfort her father. Their only son, Billy, who graduates from Harvard, prefers frilly shirts that his father suspects are bought in the girls’ department. And the youngest, Zoe, has wild hair and a desire to ”feel larger inside herself.” . One of these children, Susan, will pursue the success her parents dreamed for her-but the results will be tragic. Her brother and sister, however, will start families of their own and in the process discover a far more workable version of the American dream. Billy finds a gay lover whose devotion lasts a lifetime; Zoe, who falls into the New York City drug scene, raises her mixed- race child with a transvestite named Cassandra who becomes a loving mother. These are not the Kodak moments that would have inspired Constantine Stassos to get out the Super-8. But they ring true, heartbreakingly true. And beautiful in a way no camera could capture. A