How has Richard’s childhood experiences made him the adult he eventually becomes? In what ways has he been wounded and disturbed?

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As Michael Cunningham’s novel moves back and forth in time, the reader sees the characters at different phases of their lives. The adult Richard and Clarissa are close friends whose relationship weathered the conflicts they experienced over Louis, a man they both loved.

Richard obsesses over what he sees...

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As Michael Cunningham’s novel moves back and forth in time, the reader sees the characters at different phases of their lives. The adult Richard and Clarissa are close friends whose relationship weathered the conflicts they experienced over Louis, a man they both loved.

Richard obsesses over what he sees as his failure as a writer, although he has won a major award. Most of his writings revolve around his mother, Laura. Part of the novel presents him as a child spending one day with Laura as she prepared for her husband’s birthday party. The boy Richie, age three, is “helping” his mother bake the cake. He is not aware that his mother is pregnant.

As the events of that day transpire, the reader learns that Laura had to take some time away from her husband and son. Her attitude toward marriage and motherhood varies considerably, ranging from a begrudging acceptance of their presence in her life to full enjoyment and appreciation of the life the three of them share.

Not long after this day, however, Laura decides that she is not living authentically. She leaves them behind and moves away. It seems that Richard never recovered from the sense of abandonment he experienced so young. It may also be the case that his mother was bipolar and that Richard has the same medical condition.

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