Books: This Clever Novel Stars Walt Whitman

MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM'S LAST book wasn't supposed to be the next big thing. The Hours was an audacious, challenging, bittersweet literary novel arranged as an elegant theme-and-variations on Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, and Cunningham expected it to end up in the dustbin of quiet critical acclaim, just as his first three books had. Instead, The Hours won a Pulitzer Prize, and Nicole Kidman, playing Woolf, won an Oscar for the movie version.

Cunningham's new novel promises to do for the poet Walt Whitman what The Hours did for Woolf. Specimen Days is due out in June, and if anything, Cunningham has only...

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