In The Hours, Michael Cunningham draws inventively on the life and work of Virginia Woolf to tell the story of a group of contemporary characters who are struggling with the conflicting claims of love and inheritance, hope and despair. The novel opens with an evocation of Woolf's last days before her suicide in 1941, and moves to the stories of two modern American women who are trying to make rewarding lives for themselves in spite of the demands of friends, lovers, and family. Clarissa Vaughan is a book editor who lives in present-day Greenwich Village; when we meet her, she is buying flowers to display at a party for her friend Richard, an ailing poet who has just won a major literary prize. Laura Brown is a housewife in postwar California who is bringing up her only son and looking for her true life outside of her stifling marriage. With rare ease and assurance, Cunningham makes the two women's lives converge with Virginia Woolf's in an unexpected and heart-breaking way during the party for Richard.