THE HOURS is a deceptively simple little book that you might be tempted to dismiss. Like "Seinfeld," it appears to be about nothing, or little more than nothing. But that would be unfair and, ultimately, inaccurate.
At its core, THE HOURS concerns itself with Clarissa, a New York City book editor who is planning a party for her friend, Richard, an AIDS-afflicted poet who has just won a literary award. This slice of Clarissa's life is interspersed with a fictionalized account of Virginia Woolf's last, waning days before her suicide, and a post World War II narrative about Laura Brown, a California housewife with a picture-perfect existence who nonetheless finds herself unhappy and dissatisfied. THE HOURS draws these lives together, separated as they are by space and time, and demonstrates a certain commonality of spirit and the timeless yearning of the human condition.
What is striking here is that Cunningham does not dress up or gild the lily of alternative lifestyles. The unhappiness of the characters does not stem from being unaccepted by "evil breeders." No, these individuals, for the most part, are successful and accepted by mainstream society. Their discomfort comes from within. And, it seems to originate, in part, from their orientations. This is particularly true of Clarissa, who despairs of her daughter's relationship with a politically radical diesel; and of Richard, who speaks of the time that he and Clarissa almost connected romantically, and muses about how different things might have been for them both.
There is, ultimately, much more to THE HOURS than this relatively slim volume suggests. Some of the issues Cunningham raises are not generally explored, for political as well as other reasons; whether he did so intentionally or not is another issue. What is indisputable, however, is that Cunningham has a fine eye for detail and an understated style which will resonate with the reader. Whatever your feelings about the subject matter, THE HOURS is ultimately a book to be shared and reread.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011