Books Magazine

Book Review: By Nightfall

By Storycarnivores @storycarnivores

MCunninghamByNightfallTitle: By Nightfall
Author: Michael Cunningham
Series: N/A
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publish Date: September 28, 2010
Genre: Adult Literary
Pages: 240
Source: Gift
Buy the BookBy Nightfall

Synopsis: Peter and Rebecca Harris: mid-forties denizens of Manhattan’s SoHo, nearing the apogee of committed careers in the arts—he a dealer, she an editor. With a spacious loft, a college-age daughter in Boston, and lively friends, they are admirable, enviable contemporary urbanites with every reason, it seems, to be happy. Then Rebecca’s much younger look-alike brother, Ethan (known in thefamily as Mizzy, “the mistake”), shows up for a visit. A beautiful, beguiling twenty-three-year-old with a history of drug problems, Mizzy is wayward, at loose ends, looking for direction. And in his presence, Peter finds himself questioning his artists, their work, his career—the entire world he has so carefully constructed.

Like his legendary, Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, The Hours, Michael Cunningham’s masterly new novel is a heartbreaking look at the way we live now. Full of shocks and aftershocks, it makes us think and feel deeply about the uses and meaning of beauty and the place of love in our lives. (Via Amazon)

Brian’s Review: One of my top five favorite novels is Michael Cunningham’s 1990 debut novel A Home at the End of the World, a book I read during the summer after my freshman year of college. It was one of those spellbinding reads that didn’t just offer a great story, but literally changed my life. 2004 was the year I was most struggling with my sexuality, and this was one of the books I read that gave me comfort during this troubling time. It’s also just beautifully written, a total winner through and through. Since closing the final page on that novel, I’ve picked up and read all of Cunningham’s work. The Hours (winner of the Pulitzer Prize) is obviously his most famous work), but I enjoy Flesh and Bone and Specimen Days even more.

His latest work, By Nightfall, was the last of his books I hadn’t read, so I was excited this week to finally check it out. At 240 slim pages, it’s a quick read. And while it doesn’t have the same power as some of his earlier novels, it’s a quick, fascinating read about a forty-something couple whose relationship hits some truly big road blocks. Cunningham is so gifted at putting the reader into his characters’ head spaces in such a short amount of time. Even though we only get to spend a couple hundred pages with Rebecca and Peter, we feel like we know them in the end. He’s so good at details, and the dialog always rings true.

The book really gets interesting with the character of Rebecca’s brother Mizzy, who’s in his early twenties and who ends up staying with Peter and Rebecca for a while. His appearance in their lives seems harmless at first, but it ends up changing Peter and Rebecca’s relationship forever in a way that I was not expecting. Toward the end of the book a character says, “I fell in love with his beauty,” and such a mind state we can all identify with. I fall in love with beauty all the time, and I know I shouldn’t. Sometimes I just can’t help it. Even though a supposed “future” with such a personal is probably impossible, the beauty can be consuming. And it can hurt us more than we realize.

By Nightfall is not the next Home at the End of the World, but it is very good, probably Cunningham’s breeziest, fastest read. Cunningham is one of my heroes, and I just wish he wrote more than one book every six or seven years. He’s one of his generation’s finest writers, and here’s hoping it’s not another half-decade before we see another of his books.

And if you’ve never heard of Cunningham, I beg you, I plead with you, to check out A Home at the End of the World. The film is good, too, but the book is incredible. Highly recommended!


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