I’ve read two of Michael Cunningham’s novels now (along with a short story collection) and he really does like three storylines in three different timelines (all connected by a literary link). Or least this book and Specimen Days share these aspects.
I am obviously very late to reading this one; it had a moment to be sure in winning the Pulitzer Prize and being made into a movie and winning many awards there too. I’ve not seen the movie either. The story involves three storylines: Virginia Woolf thinking through a few of the details and problems in the writing of Mrs Dalloway, a woman named Ms Brown in 1949, married to a returned soldier and struggling in her daily tasks while reading Mrs Dalloway, and a 50 year old woman in New York planning a party for a dying friend to celebrate his winning a prestigious poetry prize–his nickname for her has always been Mrs Dalloway. These three storylines all occupy their own single day, much as the Virginia Woolf novel does, and in some ways mirror or rhyme with or parallel elements of that novel. Like Mrs Dalloway, this is a beautifully written and meditative novel about femininity, aging, and death. Each storyline deals with its own set of questions and ideas in the lives of these women, and each works within the different literary context their stories occupy. It’s hard not to see the authorlyness of this novel and for the time it occupies, again like Woolf’s novel, it feels so perfectly suited to smallness of time, and the bigness of ideas.