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By Nightfall: A Novel Hardcover – September 28, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
The principal characters in "By Nightfall" are Peter Harris, a 44-year-old contemporary art dealer, and his wife Rebecca, an editor of an arts and culture magazine. As a gallery owner, Peter's occupation is that of a "servant of beauty." He has begun to suffer existential dread: "[a] conviction, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that some terrible, blinding beauty is about to descend and, like the wrath of God, suck [the world] all away, orphan us, deliver us, leave us wondering how exactly we're going to start it all over again."
The plot, modestly scaled, is set in motion by the appearance of Rebecca's much younger brother Ethan (age 23), a beautiful but flawed and directionless young man who's interested in doing "something in the arts." Ethan's brief stay with the couple in their spacious SoHo loft will upend all three lives.
"By Nightfall" is written in a combination of voices: at times there is a third person omniscient narrator, sometimes a second person interlocutor, but principally we are caught within Peter's own ruminations. The lasting effect is a story told through Peter's eyes. While this brings a unity to the novel, it also can be a handicap.Read more ›
For one, the characters just aren't that likable. In every other one of his novels, I could find something to relate to or sympathize with in every man, woman, gay, straight, young, old, contemporary, historic person. In By Nightfall, I found Peter to be pathetic, his wife flat, and his brother-in-law a whiny child.
I also like Cunningham for the deep ideas he can effortlessly mix into his stories. In this case, it was more like he was trying to mix a story into his deep idea, and it was unsuccessful. There was too much thinking about life and beauty and not enough life and beauty actually happening. On top of that, the constant musing nature let to redundant vocabulary--evanescent, crepuscular, ineffably. I like a perfect word as much as (if not more than) the next person, but when I start noticing the same words being repeated, that tells me you're trying to stretch a 30-page idea into a 230-page novel. Kind of jarring.
Perhaps I shouldn't fault Cunningham for trying to move on and do something new (based on this novel, perhaps HE is having an existential crisis over the nature of his own art), but at the same time, I really miss the triangular, interweaving stories that spoke more to me than this forceful presentation of a theme.
But the novel failed for another reason, too: Its protagonist is an utter dolt. Far be it from me to need likable characters to enjoy a novel, but Peter Harris is not just unlikeable -- he's totally unbelievable. Here's the story: Peter's a mid-40s New York City art dealer in the midst of a crisis. He's not sure he's happy with his life. (Real original, right?) When his wife Rebecca's much-younger, much-troubled brother Mizzy comes for a visit, idealistic Peter develops all these notions of Mizzy as quintessential Youth, Beauty, and the Happiness of his marriage when it was still new. And then, Peter thinks he might be in love with Mizzy. But is he actually in love with Mizzy or is he in love with what he's convinced himself that Mizzy represents?
But heterosexual, married Peter's possible homosexual crush on his brother-in-law (which to Cunningham's credit is certainly an original take on the mid-life crisis dilemma!) is not even the ridiculous part. The ridiculous part is how silly Peter, who Cunningham painstakingly renders as this uber-self-aware, contemplative, hip New Yorker, seems at various points in the novel. He's like a rocket scientist who can't balance his checkbook. As one example of this: Early in the novel, he comes home and sees Mizzy naked in the shower and actually mistakes him for his wife, wondering why she looks so much younger all of a sudden.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
While this author's writing style can be lyrical and thought-provoking, it can also be endlessly tangential. Read morePublished 18 days ago by Kristine Anderson
Pretty much a soap opera. Slow, ponderous. Some nice turns of phrases which however devolve into surface chatter. But a quick read.Published 4 months ago by SunTime
I would love to have been there at the genesis of the idea for this book.
I can picture Michael Cunningham having an after dinner aperitif with a bunch of his... Read more
I really tried to like this book. ("Really and truly" I did.) I waited and waited for it to get better. And it had a few brief moments where I thought, here we go... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Michael
Reviews were all over the place and, after reading it, I can fully understand why. There are aspects of the book--the writing and the depiction of the NYC art/social scene--that... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Michael Warren
Good book. I really enjoyed the ending where when what the main character thought he would want isn't what he chooses when presented that option. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Tyson Nelson