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By Nightfall: A Novel Hardcover – September 28, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Contemplating an affair that never was, SoHo art dealer Peter Harris laments that he "could see it all too clearly." The same holds true for Cunningham's emotionally static and drearily conventional latest (after Specimen Days). Peter and his wife, Rebecca--who edits a mid-level art magazine--have settled into a comfortable life in Manhattan's art world, but their staid existence is disrupted by the arrival of Rebecca's much younger brother, Ethan--known as Mizzy, short for "The Mistake." Family golden child Mizzy is a recovering drug addict whose current whim has landed him in New York where he wants to pursue a career in "the arts." Watching Mizzy--whose resemblance to a younger Rebecca unnerves Peter--coast through life without responsibilities makes Peter question his own choices and wonder if it's more than Mizzy's freedom that he covets. Cunningham's sentences are, individually, something to behold, but they're unfortunately pressed into the service of a dud story about a well-off New Yorker's existential crisis.
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Peter Harris, a dispirited Soho gallery owner in his midforties, arrives home to find his wife in the shower and marvels at how lithe she looks through the steam, then realizes that he’s admiring her much younger brother. Called the Mistake, or Mizzy, he’s a lost soul, a junkie and moocher as sexy as he is manipulative. Mizzy appears just as Peter, brooding, romantic, and self-deprecating, is grappling with his failings as a father and an art dealer. Ceaselessly observant, Peter senses, or hopes for, “some terrible, blinding beauty” that will topple his carefully calibrated life, and why shouldn’t it be his alluring, feckless brother-in-law? Even if this mad infatuation stems from Peter’s deep grief for his brilliant and fearless gay brother, who died of AIDS. In his most concentrated novel, a bittersweet paean to human creativity and its particularly showy flourishing in hothouse Manhattan, virtuoso and Pulitzer winner Cunningham entwines eroticism with aesthetics to orchestrate a resonant crisis of the soul, drawing inspiration from Henry James and Thomas Mann as well as meditative painter Agnes Martin and provocateur artist Damien Hirst. The result is an exquisite, slyly witty, warmly philosophical, and urbanely eviscerating tale of the mysteries of beauty and desire, art and delusion, age and love. --Donna Seaman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (September 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374299080
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374299088
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (132 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #962,120 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Michael Cunningham is the author of the novels A Home at the End of the World, Flesh and Blood, The Hours (winner of the Pen/Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer Prize), and Specimen Days. He lives in New York.

Customer Reviews

I almost felt that he had to just put a book out and didn't feel like putting forth any effort.
Serena Reed
Only Michael Cunningham can write a beautifully crafted story with so little plot and pretentious characters and still manage to make me savor every delicious line.
Kindle Customer
Cunningham's latest novel is truly a work of art as much as it is a work of great modern literature.
Jon Linden

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

117 of 126 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Ettner on September 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The play of emotions and themes with which Michael Cunningham is most adroit -- love, loss, desire, despair, mortality -- are again engaged in his new novel set in present-day Manhattan. But take note: the epigraph Cunningham has chosen for "By Nightfall" is a line from Rilke's "Duino Elegies": "Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror." That, Cunningham signals, will be the novel's all-encompassing theme: the pursuit, use, and misuse of beauty.

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.
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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Kristin on October 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I thought The Hours, A Home at the End of the World, and Specimen Days were all wonderful. By Nightfall has the same beautiful prose, but it lacks many elements that make the others great.

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.
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49 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Charles L. Ross on October 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I did not find any of the characters, including the often naked young man with the nice ass (God help me) appealing; nor interesting. After endless paragraphs describing in detail the colors of every (or so it seems) neighborhood in New York City, including some of the outer boroughs, the story picks up; although before reaching the end, there is still interrupting, interfering stream of consciousness from not only the protagonist but from the narrator, sounding exactly alike. Without all of this--without the Tom Ford suits and the Prada skirt and the name of every taxi driver--it would have made a good short story. Instead, the endless parade of marching phrases, separated from one another by commas and semicolons--so that the punctuation becomes another character? or perhaps a Greek chorus?--and yet connected through the listing of everything that might make them the same; or different, if you fear death. (And isn't it human to be afraid? Especially of death.) The pseudo-philosophical ramblings on art are tepid and grow tedious (and I majored in art). The openings of parentheses are to lead us into Peter's mind, but when there are (sometimes) five to a sentence, all insipid, they do not close fast enough for me. No thought can be said once but must be doubled, perhaps tripled, with another way of saying exactly the same thing. Still. Each sentence, every word is carefully selected, almost religiously (maybe), as though it were measured by a metronome. The book is WRITTEN. And it is a chore to read.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Zimmerman on December 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Midway through Michael Cunnigham's slim new novel, By Nightfall, a character describes a rich woman's expensively decorated living room as " magnificent it transcends its own pretensions." That's also a good description for what Cunningham must've hoped his novel would be. But since it's not exactly magnificent, we're pretty much left with just pretentious. And the novel, though well-crafted, sure is that.

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.
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