Michael Cunningham’s Elegant Usurpations
November 15, 2014, by Doni Wilson
It’s another Monday night at the Wortham Center in Houston, and this time I didn’t mess around getting the tickets for the Inprint Reading featuring Michael Cunningham, the Pulitzer prize-winning author of one of the most important books written in a long time, The Hours. Good thing: it is crowded already when I blow in at 7:25, and you can tell people are excited. You can’t blame them: The Hours didn’t just help us figure out how to read Virginia Woolf’s masterful Mrs. Dalloway, and it didn’t just give us another great film with Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman, who won an Academy Award for her unadorned portrayal of Woolf. Cunningham is speaking tonight on his new novel, The Snow Queen, but, at least for me, there is no getting away from The Hours and lines like these:
Still, there is this sense of missed opportunity. Maybe there is nothing, ever, that can equal the recollection of having been young together. Maybe it’s as simple as that. Richard was the person Clarissa loved at her most optimistic moment. Richard had stood beside her at the pond’s edge at dusk, wearing cut-off jeans and rubber sandals. Richard had called her Mrs. Dalloway, and they had kissed. His mouth had opened to hers; his tongue (exciting and utterly familiar, she’d never forget it) had worked its way shyly inside until she met it with her own. They’d kissed and walked around the pond together….
It had seemed like the beginning of happiness, and Clarissa is still sometimes shocked, more than thirty years later, to realize that it was happiness; that the entire experience lay in a kiss and a walk, the anticipation of dinner and a book…. The dinner is by now forgotten; Lessing has been long overshadowed by other writers. What lives undimmed in Clarissa’s mind more than three decades later is a kiss at dusk on a patch of dead grass, and a walk around a pond as mosquitoes droned in the darkening air. There is still that singular perfection, and it’s perfect in part because it seemed, at the time, so clearly to promise more. Now she knows: That was the moment, right then. There has been no other.
― Michael Cunningham, The Hours