The story of Constantine Stassos, a Greek immigrant. He marries an Italian girl, they have three children and he becomes a rich construction boss. After which it's downhill all the way: drugs, sex and the generation gap. The parents divorce, a son becomes a homosexual, the daughter has an illegitimate black baby. By the author of A Home at the End of the World.
It's not perfect. Cunningham's attempt to pull in every character's point of view left me wanting more of certain characters and less of others. I liked knowing Constantine's point of view as it related to his children and grandchildren, for example, but the details of his construction business and other relationships late in life could have been left out to make room for more details of the up-and-coming generations.
Certain pivotal events feel glossed over--it's hard to elaborate without giving away plot details. In one case, we know Event A is going to happen, then Event B completely overshadows A, and then we skip ahead to where A has already happened. The reactions of most of the characters to both events could be elaborated on more and yet, at that point Cunningham seems to be pretty much done with the book and ready to tie up loose ends.
And, OK, I didn't like the ending that much. The last chapter had the potential to be a nice moment, but it fell short. I didn't need a summary of the next 40 years in everyone's lives, I needed to maintain my connection to the character Cunningham chose to end with in order to care about that nice moment.
Or maybe I just needed him to stop sooner, and write the next 40 years into another gorgeous novel.
Cunningham deftly captures the dynamics of this group of individuals, all of whom are alienated from each other at some time for some reason with the mother wringing her hands in the background. The father's disappointment in and disapproval of his son's gay lifestyle is irreparable at an early age. His subsequent violent rages create a distance that can never be bridged. The most sympathetic character for me was the drag queen, Cassandra, with her unwavering loyalty and love at a time when it was most needed. The ending is especially poignant.
Of the children, Susan readily marries to escape he father; Billy goes to Harvard; and Zoë takes up a free lifestyle in New York. Each finds love in his or her own way, and of course the problems that go with such. As the children in turn have children their lives become part of the saga. Each member of the family is a distinct and very individual character, from the down to earth, physical, abusive and self made patriarch Constantine, his sensitive wife Mary, the rather prim Susan, level headed Billy who is gay and perhaps the most endearing member of the family, and Zoë who is into free love and drugs. The one outsider to the family who figures strongly in the story is Cassandra, Zoë’s flamboyant transvestite and very caring friend, and an appealing individual.
Between them they face innumerable troubles including divorce, abuse, illness, discrimination, drugs, AIDS, adultery, suicide, death, and family rejection. But these troubles are tempered with the more positive, essentially the love that binds a family, and the love that some find beyond the family, including gay love. As the saga draws to its conclusion way in the future it is the less conventional family members, those at times rejected, who come through with credit and prove to be the true survivors.
Flesh and Blood is an engrossing family drama with vividly drawn and diverse characters, a very moving and ultimately heart warming story.