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By Nightfall

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Overview

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, ...

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By Nightfall

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Jeanette Winterson
Cunningham has taken on the classic plot of the uninvited or unexpected stranger or guest whose arrival brings chaos, self-knowledge, tragedy, the ruin of one kind of life that may or may not lead to something better…Cunningham is drawn to simple, potent plots…saving his energy for the hearts and minds, the groins and guts, of his characters. Yet he makes you turn the pages. He tells a story here, but not too much of a story. You aren't deadened by detail; you're eager to know what happens next. Cunningham writes so well, and with such an economy of language, that he can call up the poet's exact match. His dialogue is deft and fast. The pace of the writing is skilled—stretched or contracted at just the right time.
—The New York Times
Ron Charles
There are flashier, more pyrotechnic stylists, but for pure, elegant, efficient beauty, Cunningham is astounding. He's developed this captivating narrative voice that mingles his own sharp commentary with Peter's mock-heroic despair. Half Henry James, half James Joyce, but all Cunningham, it's an irresistible performance, cerebral and campy, marked by stabbing moments of self-doubt immediately undercut by theatrical asides and humorous quips.
—The Washington Post
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. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

“Emmy Award nominee Hugh Dancy well captures Peter’s melancholy…Cunningham’s popularity generally and his exploration of universal middle-class dreams and fears make this a good choice for book clubs” – Library Journal

“What is signaled in print through the use of design elements, narrator Hugh Dancy does through voice: A change in inflection, a slight questioning, a hesitation, or an increase in speed alerts the listener to a switch from stream of consciousness to public dialogue, from narrative description to personal conversation. Dancy’s reading brings authenticity to Peter’s emotional journey, saving it from self-indulgence.” – Audiofile

Library Journal
Cunningham, whose Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner award-winning novel, The Hours, is also available from Macmillan Audio (read by the author), here follows world-weary art dealer Peter Harris as he toys with breaking free from his middle-aged slump. Seeing the world through the eyes of his 20-year-old, drug-addicted brother-in-law causes Peter to reconsider his career, his relationship with his daughter, and his marriage. Unfortunately, Peter and his cohorts read more like New York art-world stereotypes than fully developed characters. Emmy Award nominee Hugh Dancy well captures Peter's melancholy, though it is occasionally difficult to distinguish between his reading of the dialog and Peter's thoughts. Cunningham's (www.michaelcunninghamwriter.com) popularity generally and his exploration of universal middle-class dreams and fears make this a good choice for book clubs. [The New York Times best-selling Farrar hc is a 2010 LJ Best Book.—Ed.]—Johannah Genett, Hennepin P.L., MN
Kirkus Reviews

A surfeit of literary and cultural references can't disguise a lightweight soap opera.

Literary subject matter is familiar territory for Cunningham (whose 1998 novel,The Hours,won a Pulitzer), but this novel's incessant evocations of James, Eliot, Joyce, Mann, Fitzgerald, Melville (and Carver and Barthelme and others) makes the narrative feel slight by comparison. Peter is a successful Manhattan art dealer; Rebecca, his wife of 21 years, edits a literary journal that is threatening to fold. "In a long marriage, you learn to identify a multitude of different atmospheres and weathers," thinks Peter early on, though it may well be that they neither know each other as well nor are as satisfied with their marriage as both initially seem to believe. Complication arrives in the form of Rebecca's much younger brother—the possibly brilliant, impossibly beautiful Ethan (generally known as "Mizzy," his unplanned birth was a mistake). He's a recovering drug addict, or perhaps not so recovering, and he has come to stay with them with the vague idea of doing "Something in the Arts." Ponders Peter of their guest, "It's hardly beyond understanding, neither the straight A's that led to Yale nor the drugs that led elsewhere." Peter and Rebecca have a daughter near Mizzy's age, who feels inexplicable (to Peter) bitterness toward her father. Peter also had a homosexual older brother, long dead, whose memory continues to haunt him. Mizzy might serve as a stand-in for Peter's brother, for his daughter, even for Peter's wife (whom he resembles in her younger, prettier days). He might also arouse incestuous feelings in Rebecca. Possibilities resolve themselves amid aesthetic pronouncements on how "a real work of art can be owned but should not be subject to capture" and that it is "something that will tell the world (poor forgetful world) that evanescence is not all."

"Does America get the art it deserves?" wonders Peter. Or the novel?

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781445836553
  • Publisher: Camden
  • Publication date: 2/28/2012

Meet the Author

Michael Cunningham

Michael Cunningham was raised in Los Angeles and lives in New York City. He is the author of the novels The Hours, A Home at the End of the World, Specimen Days, and Flesh and Blood. His work has appeared in The New Yorker and Best American Short Stories, and he is the recipient of a Whiting Writer's Award. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award for The Hours, which was a New York Times bestseller, and was chosen as a Best Book of 1998 by The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Publishers Weekly. He is a Professor at Brooklyn College for the M.F.A program.

Biography

By the time he finished Virginia Woolf's classic Mrs. Dalloway at the age of fifteen to impress a crush who tauntingly suggested he "try and be less stupid" and do so, Michael Cunningham knew that he was destined to become a writer. While his debut novel wouldn't come until decades later, he would win the Pulitzer for Fiction with his third -- fittingly, an homage to the very book that launched both his love of literature and his life's work.

After growing up Cincinnati, Ohio, Cunningham fled to the west coast to study literature at Stanford University, but later returned to the heartland, where he received his M.F.A. from the University of Iowa in 1980. A writer recognized early on for his promising talent, Cunningham was awarded several grants toward his work, including a Michener Fellowship from the University of Iowa in 1982, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1988.

In 1984, Cunningham's debut novel, Golden States, was published. While generally well-received by the critics, the book -- a narrative chronicling a few weeks in the life of a 12-year-old-boy -- is often dismissed by Cunningham. In an interview with Other Voices, he explains: "I'm so much more interested in some kind of grand ambitious failure than I am in someone's modest little success that achieves its modest little aims. I felt that I had written a book like that, and I wasn't happy about it. My publisher very generously allowed me to turn down a paperback offer and it has really gone away."

With a new decade came Cunningham's stirring novel, A Home at the End of the World, in 1990. The story of a heartbreakingly lopsided love triangle between two gay men and their mutual female friend, the novel was a groundbreaking take on the ‘90s phenomenon of the nontraditional family. While not exactly released with fanfare, the work drew impressive reviews that instantly recognized Cunningham's gift for using language to define his characters' voices and outline their motives. David Kaufman of The Nation noted Cunningham's "exquisite way with words and ...his uncanny felicity in conveying both his characters and their story," and remarked that "this is quite simply one of those rare novel imbued with graceful insights on every page."

The critical acclaim of A Home at the End of the World no doubt helped Cunningham win the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1993 -- and two years later, his domestic epic Flesh and Blood was released. Chronicling the dysfunctional Stassos family from their suburban present back through to the parents' roots and looking toward the children's uncertain futures, the sprawling saga was praised for its complexity and heart. The New York Times Book Review noted that "Mr. Cunningham gets all the little things right.... Mr. Cunningham gets the big stuff right, too. For the heart of the story lies not in the nostalgic references but in the complex relationships between parents and children, between siblings, friends and lovers."

While the new decade ushered in his impressive debut, the close of the decade brought with it Cunningham's inarguable opus, The Hours (1998). A tribute to that seminal work that was the author's first inspiration -- Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway -- the book reworks the events and ideas of the classic and sets them alternately in 1980s Greenwich Village, 1940s Los Angeles, and Woolf's London. Of Cunningham's ambitious project, USA Today raved, "The Hours is that rare combination: a smashing literary tour-de-force and an utterly invigorating reading experience. If this book does not make you jump up from the sofa, looking at life and literature in new ways, check to see if you have a pulse." The Hours won both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, and was adapted into a major motion picture starring the powerhouse trio of Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Nicole Kidman in December 2002.

To come down from the frenetic success of The Hours, Cunningham took on a quieter project, 2002's tribute/travelogue Land's End: A Walk Through Provincetown. The first installment in Crown's new "Crown Journeys" series, the book is a loving tour through the eccentric little town at the tip of Cape Cod beloved by so many artists and authors, Cunningham included. A haven for literary legends from Eugene O'Neill to Norman Mailer, Cunningham is -- rightfully -- at home there.

Good To Know

Cunningham's debut novel, Golden States, can be hard to find; check out our Used & Out of Print Store to find a copy!

Cunningham's short story "White Angel" was chosen for Best American Short Stories 1989 -- the year before his acclaimed novel A Home at the End of the World was published.

When asked by Barnes & Noble.com about any other names he goes by, Cunningham's list included the monikers Bree Daniels, Mickey Fingers, Jethro, Old Yeller, Gaucho, Cowboy Ed, Tim-Bob, Mister Lies, Erin The Red, Miss Kitty, and Squeegee.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 6, 1952
    2. Place of Birth:
      Cincinnati, Ohio
    1. Education:
      B.A., Stanford University, 1975; M.F.A., University of Iowa, 1980
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

A PARTY

The Mistake is coming to stay for a while.

“Are you mad about Mizzy?” Rebecca says.

“Of course not,” Peter answers.

One of the inscrutable old horses that pull tourist carriages has been hit by a car somewhere up on Broadway, which has stopped traffic all the way down to the Port Authority, which is making Peter and Rebecca late.

“Maybe it’s time to start calling him Ethan,” Rebecca says. “I’ll bet nobody calls him Mizzy anymore but us.”

Mizzy is short for the Mistake.

Outside the cab, pigeons clatter up across the blinking blue of a Sony sign. An elderly bearded man in a soiled, full-length down coat, grand in his way (stately, plump Buck Mulligan?), pushes a grocery cart full of various somethings in various trash bags, going faster than any of the cars.

Inside the cab, the air is full of drowsily potent air freshener, vaguely floral but not really suggestive of anything beyond a chemical compound that must be called “sweet.”

“Did he tell you how long he wants to stay?” Peter asks.

“I’m not sure.”

Her eyes go soft. Worrying overmuch about Mizzy (Ethan) is a habit she can’t break.

Peter doesn’t pursue it. Who wants to go to a party in mid-argument?

He has a queasy stomach, and a song looping through his head. I’m sailing away, set an open course for the virgin sea . . . Where would that have come from? He hasn’t listened to Styx since he was in college.

“We should set a limit,” he says.

She sighs, settles her hand lightly on his knee, looks out the window at Eighth Avenue, up which they are now not moving at all. Rebecca is a strong-featured woman—who is often referred to as beautiful but never as pretty. She may or may not notice these small gestures of hers, by which she consoles Peter for his own stinginess.

A gathering of angels appeared above my head.

Peter turns to look out his own window. The cars in the lane beside theirs are inching forward. A slightly battered blue Toyota-ish something creeps abreast, full of young men; raucous twenty-something boys blaring music loudly enough that Peter feels the thump-thump of it enter the cab’s frame as they approach. There are six, no, seven of them crammed into the car, all inaudibly shouting or singing; brawny boys tarted up for Saturday night, hair gelled into tines, flickers of silver studs or chains here and there as they roughhouse and bitch-slap. The traffic in their lane picks up speed, and as they pull ahead Peter sees, thinks he sees, that one of them, one of the four clamoring in the backseat, is actually an old man, wearing what must be a spiky black wig, shouting and shoving right along with the others but thin-lipped and hollow-cheeked. He noodles the head of the boy stuffed in next to him, shouts into the boy’s ear (flashing nuclear white veneers?), and then they’re gone, moving with traffic. A moment later, the nimbus of sound they make has been pulled along with them. Now it’s the brown bulk of a delivery truck that offers, in burnished gold, the wing-footed god of FTD. Flowers. Someone is getting flowers.

Peter turns back to Rebecca. An old man in young-guy drag is something to have observed together; it’s not really a story to tell her, is it? Besides, aren’t they in the middle of some kind of edgy pre-argument? In a long marriage, you learn to identify a multitude of different atmospheres and weathers.

Rebecca has felt his attention reenter the cab. She looks at him blankly, as if she hadn’t fully expected to see him.

If he dies before she does, will she be able to sense his disembodied presence in a room?

“Don’t worry,” he says. “We won’t throw him out on the street.”

Her lips fold in primly. “No, really, we should set some limits with him,” she says. “It’s not a good idea to always just give him whatever he thinks he wants.”

What’s this? All of a sudden, she’s chiding him about her lost little brother?

“What seems like a reasonable amount of time?” he asks, and is astonished that she does not seem to notice the exasperation in his voice. How can they know each other so little, after all this time?

She pauses, considering, and then, as if she’s forgotten an errand, leans urgently forward and asks the driver, “How do you know it’s an accident involving a horse?”

Even in his spasm of irritation, Peter is able to marvel at women’s ability to ask direct questions of men without seeming to pick a fight.

“Call from the dispatcher,” the driver says, waggling a finger at his earphone. His bald head sits solemnly on the brown plinth of his neck. He, of course, has his own story, and it does not in any way involve the well-dressed middle-aged couple in the back of his cab. His name, according to the plate on the back of the front seat, is Rana Saleem. India? Iran? He might have been a doctor where he comes from. Or a laborer. Or a thief. There’s no way of knowing.

Rebecca nods, settles back in her seat. “I’m thinking more about other kinds of limits,” she says.

“What kinds?”

“He can’t just rely on other people forever. And, you know. We all still worry about that other thing.”

“You think that’s something his big sister can help him with?”

She closes her eyes, offended now, now, when he’d meant to be compassionate.

“What I mean,” Peter says, “is, well. You probably can’t help him change his life, if he doesn’t want to himself. I mean, a drug addict is a sort of bottomless pit.”

She keeps her eyes closed. “He’s been clean for a whole year. When do we stop calling him a drug addict?”

“I’m not sure if we ever do.”

Is he getting sanctimonious? Is he just spouting 12-step truisms he’s picked up God knows where?

The problem with the truth is, it’s so often mild and clichéd.

She says, “Maybe he’s ready for some actual stability.”

Yeah, maybe. Mizzy has informed them, via e-mail, that he’s decided he wants to do something in the arts. That would be Something in the Arts, an occupation toward which he seems to have no cogent intentions. Doesn’t matter. People (some people) are glad when Mizzy expresses any productive inclinations at all.

Peter says, “Then we’ll do what we can to give him some stability.”

Rebecca squeezes his knee, affectionately. He has been good.

Behind them, somebody blasts his horn. What exactly does he think that’s going to do?

“Maybe we should get out here and take the train,” she says.

“We have such a perfect excuse for being late.”

“Do you think that means we have to stay late?”

“Absolutely not. I promise to get you out of there before Mike is drunk enough to start harassing you.”

“That would be so lovely.”

Finally they reach the corner of Eighth Avenue and Central Park South, where the remains of the accident have not yet been entirely cleared away. There, behind the flares and portable stanchions, behind the two cops redirecting traffic into Columbus Circle, is the bashed-up car, a white Mercedes canted at an angle on Fifty-ninth, luridly pink in the flare light. There is what must be the body of the horse, covered by a black tarp. The tarp, tarrily heavy, offers the rise of the horse’s rump. The rest of the body could be anything.

“My God,” Rebecca whispers.

Peter knows: any accident, any reminder of the world’s capacity to cause harm, makes her, makes both of them, panic briefly about Bea. Has she somehow come to New York without telling them? Could she conceivably have been riding in a horse carriage, even though that’s something she’d never do?

Parenthood, it seems, makes you nervous for the rest of your life. Even when your daughter is twenty and full of cheerful, impenetrable rage and not doing all that well in Boston, 240 miles away. Especially then.

He says, “You never think of those horses getting hit by cars. You hardly think of them as animals.”

“There’s a whole . . . cause. About the way those horses are treated.”

Of course there is. Rana Saleem drives a night-shift cab here. Destitute men and women walk the streets with their feet bound in rags. The carriage horses must have dismal lives, their hooves are probably cracked and split from the concrete. How monstrous is it, to go about your business anyway?

“This’ll be good for the pro-horse people, then,” he says.

Why does he sound so callous? He means to be rigorous, not hard; he himself is appalled by how he can sound. He feels at times as if he hasn’t quite mastered the dialect of his own language—that he’s a less-than-fluent speaker of Peter-ese, at the age of forty-four.

No, he’s still only forty-three. Why does he keep wanting to add a year?

No, wait, he turned forty-four last month.

“So maybe the poor thing didn’t die in vain,” Rebecca says. She runs a fingertip consolingly along Peter’s jaw.

What marriage doesn’t involve uncountable accretions, a language of gestures, a sense of recognition sharp as a toothache? Unhappy, sure. What couple isn’t unhappy, at least part of the time? But how can the divorce rate be, as they say, skyrocketing? How miserable would you have to get to be able to bear the actual separation, to go off and live your life so utterly unrecognized?

“A mess,” the driver says.

“Yeah.”

And yet, of course, Peter is mesmerized by the ruined car and the horse’s body. Isn’t this the bitter pleasure of New York City? It’s a mess, like Courbet’s Paris was. It’s squalid and smelly; it’s harmful. It stinks of mortality.

If anything, he’s sorry the horse has been covered up. He wants to see it: yellow teeth bared, tongue lolling, blood black on the pavement. For the traditional ghoulish reasons, but also for . . . evidence. For the sense that he and Rebecca have not only been inconvenienced by an animal’s death but have also been in some small way a part of it; that the horse’s demise includes them, their willingness to mark it. Don’t we always want to see the body? When he and Dan washed Matthew’s corpse (my God, it was almost twenty-five years ago), hadn’t he felt a certain exhilaration he didn’t mention afterward to Dan or, for that matter, to anyone, ever?

The cab creeps into Columbus Circle, and accelerates. At the top of the granite column, the figure of Christopher Columbus (who as it turns out was some kind of mass murderer, right?) wears the faintest hint of pink from the flares that attend the body of the horse.

I tbought that they were angels, but to my surprise, we something something something, and headed for the skies . . .

The point of the party is having gone to the party. The reward is going to dinner afterward, the two of them, and then home again.

Particulars vary. Tonight there is Elena Petrova, their hostess (her husband is always away somewhere, probably best not to ask what he’s doing), smart and noisy and defiantly vulgar (an ongoing debate between Peter and Rebecca—does she know about the jewelry and the lipstick and the glasses, is she making a statement, how could she be this rich and intelligent and not know?); there is the small, very good Artschwager and the large, pretty good Marden and the Gober sink, into which some guest—never identified—once emptied an ashtray; there is Jack Johnson seated in waxy majesty on a loveseat beside Linda Neilson, who speaks animatedly into the arctic topography of Jack’s face; there is the first drink (vodka on the rocks; Elena serves a famously obscure brand she has shipped in from Moscow—really, can Peter or anyone tell the difference?), followed by the second drink, but not a third; there is the insistent glittery buzz of the party, of enormous wealth, always a little intoxicating no matter how familiar it becomes; there is the quick check on Rebecca (she’s fine, she’s talking to Mona and Amy, thank God for a wife who can manage on her own at these things); there is the inevitable conversation with Bette Rice (sorry he had to miss the opening, he hears the Inksys are fantastic, he’ll come by this week) and with Doug Petrie (lunch, a week from Monday, absolutely) and with the other Linda Neilson (yeah, sure, I’ll come talk to your students, call me at the gallery and we’ll figure out a date); there is peeing under a Kelly drawing newly hung in the powder room (Elena can’t know, can she—if she’d hang this in a bathroom she’s got to be serious about her eyeglasses, too); there is the decision to have that third vodka after all; there is the flirtation with Elena—Hey, love the vodka; Angel, you know you can get it here anytime you like (he knows he is known, and probably scorned, for working it, the whole hey-I’d-do-you-if-I-had-the-chance thing); there is scrawny, hysterical Mike Forth, standing with Emmett near the Terence Koh, getting drunk enough to start homing in on Rebecca (Peter sympathizes with Mike, can’t help it, he’s been there—thirty years later he’s still amazed that Joanna Hurst did not love him, not even a little); there is a glimpse of the improbably handsome hired waiter talking surreptitiously on his cell in the kitchen (boyfriend, girlfriend, sex for hire—at least the kids who serve at these things have a little mystery about them); then back to the living room where—oops—Mike has managed to corner Rebecca after all, he’s talking furiously to her and she’s nodding, searching for the rescue Peter promised her; there is Peter’s quick check to make sure no one has been ignored; there is the goodbye conversation with Elena, who’s sorry she missed seeing the Vincents (Call me, there are a few other things I’d love to show you); there is the strangely ardent goodbye from Bette Rice (something’s up); the claiming of Rebecca (Sorry, I’ve got to take her away now, see you soon, I hope); the panicky parting grin from Mike, and goodbye goodbye, thank you, see you next week, yeah, absolutely, call me, okay, goodbye.

Another cab, back downtown. Peter thinks sometimes that at the end, whenever it comes, he will remember riding in cabs as vividly as he recalls anything else from his earthly career. However noxious the smells (no air freshener this time, just a minor under-current of bile and crankcase oil) or how aggressively inept the driving (one of those accelerate-and-brake guys, this time), there is that sense of enclosed flotation; of moving unassaulted through the streets of this improbable city.

They are crossing Central Park along Seventy-ninth Street, one of the finest of all nocturnal taxi rides, the park sunk in its green-black dream of itself, its little green-gold lights marking circles of grass and pavement at their bases. There are, of course, desperate people out there, some of them refugees, some of them criminals; we do as well as we can with these impossible contradictions, these endless snarls of loveliness and murder.

Rebecca says, “You didn’t save me from Hurricane Mike.”

“Hey, I wrested you away the second I saw you with him.”

She’s sitting inwardly, hugging her own shoulders though there’s not even a hint of cold.

She says, “I know you did.”

But still, he has failed her, hasn’t he?

He says, “Something seems to be going on with Bette.”

“Rice?”

How many other Bettes were at the party? How much of his life is devoted to answering these obvious little questions; how much closer does he move to a someday stroke with every fit of mini-rage over the fact that Rebecca has not been paying attention, has not been with the goddamned program?

“Mm-hm.”

“What, do you think?”

“I have no idea. Something about when she said goodbye. I felt something. I’ll give her a call tomorrow.”

“Bette’s at an age.”

“As in, menopause?”

“Among other things.”

They thrill him, these little demonstrations of womanly certainty. They’re right out of James and Eliot, aren’t they? We are in fact made of the same material as Isabel Archer, as Dorothea Brooke.

The cab reaches Fifth Avenue, turns right. From Fifth Avenue the park regains its aspect of dormant nocturnal threat, of black trees and a waiting, gathering something. Do the billionaires who live in these buildings ever feel it? When their drivers bring them home at night, do they ever glance across the avenue and imagine themselves safe, just barely, for now, from a wildness that watches with long and hungry patience from under the trees?

“When is Mizzy coming?” he asks.

“He said sometime next week. You know how he is.”

“Mm.”

Peter does, in fact, know how he is. He’s one of those smart, drifty young people who, after certain deliberations, decides he wants to do Something in the Arts but won’t, possibly can’t, think in terms of an actual job; who seems to imagine that youth and brains and willingness will simply summon an occupation, the precise and perfect nature of which will reveal itself in its own time.

This family of women really ruined the poor kid, didn’t they? Who could survive having been so desperately loved?

Rebecca turns to him, arms still folded across her breasts. “Does it seem ridiculous to you sometimes?”

“What?”

“These parties and dinners, all those awful people.”

“They’re not all awful.”

“I know. I just get tired of asking all the questions. Half those people don’t even know what I do.”

“That’s not true.”

Well, maybe it’s a little bit true. Blue Light, Rebecca’s arts and culture magazine, is not a heavy-hitter among people like these, I mean it’s no Artforum or Art in America. There’s art, sure, but there’s also poetry and fiction and—horror of horrors—the occasional fashion spread.

She says, “If you’d rather Mizzy not stay with us, I’ll find another place for him.”

Oh, it’s still about Mizzy, isn’t it? Little brother, the love of her life.

“No, it’s totally okay. I haven’t even seen him in, what? Five years? Six?”

Read More Show Less

First Chapter

By Nightfall

A Novel
By Michael Cunningham

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2010 Mare Vaporum Corp.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-374-29908-8


Chapter One

A PARTY

The Mistake is coming to stay for a while.

"Are you mad about Mizzy?" Rebecca says.

"Of course not," Peter answers.

One of the inscrutable old horses that pull tourist carriages has been hit by a car somewhere up on Broadway, which has stopped traffic all the way down to the Port Authority, which is making Peter and Rebecca late.

"Maybe it's time to start calling him Ethan," Rebecca says. "I'll bet nobody calls him Mizzy anymore but us."

Mizzy is short for the Mistake.

Outside the cab, pigeons clatter up across the blinking blue of a Sony sign. An elderly bearded man in a soiled, full-length down coat, grand in his way (stately, plump Buck Mulligan?), pushes a grocery cart full of various somethings in various trash bags, going faster than any of the cars.

Inside the cab, the air is full of drowsily potent air freshener, vaguely floral but not really suggestive of anything beyond a chemical compound that must be called "sweet."

"Did he tell you how long he wants to stay?" Peter asks.

"I'm not sure."

Her eyes go soft. Worrying overmuch about Mizzy (Ethan) is a habit she can't break.

Peter doesn't pursue it. Who wants to go to a party in mid-argument?

He has a queasy stomach, and a song looping through his head. I'm sailing away, set an open course for the virgin sea ... Where would that have come from? He hasn't listened to Styx since he was in college.

"We should set a limit," he says.

She sighs, settles her hand lightly on his knee, looks out the window at Eighth Avenue, up which they are now not moving at all. Rebecca is a strong-featured woman-who is often referred to as beautiful but never as pretty. She may or may not notice these small gestures of hers, by which she consoles Peter for his own stinginess.

A gathering of angels appeared above my head.

Peter turns to look out his own window. The cars in the lane beside theirs are inching forward. A slightly battered blue Toyota-ish something creeps abreast, full of young men; raucous twenty-something boys blaring music loudly enough that Peter feels the thump-thump of it enter the cab's frame as they approach. There are six, no, seven of them crammed into the car, all inaudibly shouting or singing; brawny boys tarted up for Saturday night, hair gelled into tines, flickers of silver studs or chains here and there as they roughhouse and bitch-slap. The traffic in their lane picks up speed, and as they pull ahead Peter sees, thinks he sees, that one of them, one of the four clamoring in the backseat, is actually an old man, wearing what must be a spiky black wig, shouting and shoving right along with the others but thin-lipped and hollow-cheeked. He noodles the head of the boy stuffed in next to him, shouts into the boy's ear flashing nuclear white veneers?), and then they're gone, moving with traffic. A moment later, the nimbus of sound they make has been pulled along with them. Now it's the brown bulk of a delivery truck that offers, in burnished gold, the wing-footed god of FTD. Flowers. Someone is getting flowers.

Peter turns back to Rebecca. An old man in young-guy drag is something to have observed together; it's not really a story to tell her, is it? Besides, aren't they in the middle of some kind of edgy pre-argument? In a long marriage, you learn to identify a multitude of different atmospheres and weathers.

Rebecca has felt his attention reenter the cab. She looks at him blankly, as if she hadn't fully expected to see him.

If he dies before she does, will she be able to sense his disembodied presence in a room?

"Don't worry," he says. "We won't throw him out on the street."

Her lips fold in primly. "No, really, we should set some limits with him," she says. "It's not a good idea to always just give him whatever he thinks he wants."

What's this? All of a sudden, she's chiding him about her lost little brother?

"What seems like a reasonable amount of time?" he asks, and is astonished that she does not seem to notice the exasperation in his voice. How can they know each other so little, after all this time?

She pauses, considering, and then, as if she's forgotten an errand, leans urgently forward and asks the driver, "How do you know it's an accident involving a horse?"

Even in his spasm of irritation, Peter is able to marvel at women's ability to ask direct questions of men without seeming to pick a fight.

"Call from the dispatcher," the driver says, waggling a finger at his earphone. His bald head sits solemnly on the brown plinth of his neck. He, of course, has his own story, and it does not in any way involve the well-dressed middle-aged couple in the back of his cab. His name, according to the plate on the back of the front seat, is Rana Saleem. India? Iran? He might have been a doctor where he comes from. Or a laborer. Or a thief. There's no way of knowing.

Rebecca nods, settles back in her seat. "I'm thinking more about other kinds of limits," she says.

"What kinds?"

"He can't just rely on other people forever. And, you know. We all still worry about that other thing."

"You think that's something his big sister can help him with?"

She closes her eyes, o2 ended now, now, when he'd meant to be compassionate.

"What I mean," Peter says, "is, well. You probably can't help him change his life, if he doesn't want to himself. I mean, a drug addict is a sort of bottomless pit."

She keeps her eyes closed. "He's been clean for a whole year. When do we stop calling him a drug addict?"

"I'm not sure if we ever do."

Is he getting sanctimonious? Is he just spouting 12-step truisms he's picked up God knows where?

The problem with the truth is, it's so often mild and clichéd.

She says, "Maybe he's ready for some actual stability."

Yeah, maybe. Mizzy has informed them, via e-mail, that he's decided he wants to do something in the arts. That would be Something in the Arts, an occupation toward which he seems to have no cogent intentions. Doesn't matter. People (some people) are glad when Mizzy expresses any productive inclinations at all.

Peter says, "Then we'll do what we can to give him some stability."

Rebecca squeezes his knee, affectionately. He has been good.

Behind them, somebody blasts his horn. What exactly does he think that's going to do?

"Maybe we should get out here and take the train," she says.

"We have such a perfect excuse for being late."

"Do you think that means we have to stay late?"

"Absolutely not. I promise to get you out of there before Mike is drunk enough to start harassing you."

"That would be so lovely."

Finally they reach the corner of Eighth Avenue and Central Park South, where the remains of the accident have not yet been entirely cleared away. There, behind the flares and portable stanchions, behind the two cops redirecting traffic into Columbus Circle, is the bashed-up car, a white Mercedes canted at an angle on Fifty-ninth, luridly pink in the flare light. There is what must be the body of the horse, covered by a black tarp. The tarp, tarrily heavy, offers the rise of the horse's rump. The rest of the body could be anything.

"My God," Rebecca whispers.

Peter knows: any accident, any reminder of the world's capacity to cause harm, makes her, makes both of them, panic briefly about Bea. Has she somehow come to New York without telling them? Could she conceivably have been riding in a horse carriage, even though that's something she'd never do?

Parenthood, it seems, makes you nervous for the rest of your life. Even when your daughter is twenty and full of cheerful, impenetrable rage and not doing all that well in Boston, 240 miles away. Especially then.

He says, "You never think of those horses getting hit by cars. You hardly think of them as animals."

"There's a whole ... cause. About the way those horses are treated."

Of course there is. Rana Saleem drives a night-shift cab here. Destitute men and women walk the streets with their feet bound in rags. The carriage horses must have dismal lives, their hooves are probably cracked and split from the concrete. How monstrous is it, to go about your business anyway?

"This'll be good for the pro-horse people, then," he says.

Why does he sound so callous? He means to be rigorous, not hard; he himself is appalled by how he can sound. He feels at times as if he hasn't quite mastered the dialect of his own language-that he's a less-than-fluent speaker of Peter-ese, at the age of forty-four.

No, he's still only forty-three. Why does he keep wanting to add a year?

No, wait, he turned forty-four last month.

"So maybe the poor thing didn't die in vain," Rebecca says. She runs a fingertip consolingly along Peter's jaw.

What marriage doesn't involve uncountable accretions, a language of gestures, a sense of recognition sharp as a toothache? Unhappy, sure. What couple isn't unhappy, at least part of the time? But how can the divorce rate be, as they say, skyrocketing? How miserable would you have to get to be able to bear the actual separation, to go off and live your life so utterly unrecognized?

"A mess," the driver says.

"Yeah."

And yet, of course, Peter is mesmerized by the ruined car and the horse's body. Isn't this the bitter pleasure of New York City? It's a mess, like Courbet's Paris was. It's squalid and smelly; it's harmful. It stinks of mortality.

If anything, he's sorry the horse has been covered up. He wants to see it: yellow teeth bared, tongue lolling, blood black on the pavement. For the traditional ghoulish reasons, but also for ... evidence. For the sense that he and Rebecca have not only been inconvenienced by an animal's death but have also been in some small way a part of it; that the horse's demise includes them, their willingness to mark it. Don't we always want to see the body? When he and Dan washed Matthew's corpse (my God, it was almost twenty-five years ago), hadn't he felt a certain exhilaration he didn't mention afterward to Dan or, for that matter, to anyone, ever?

The cab creeps into Columbus Circle, and accelerates. At the top of the granite column, the figure of Christopher Columbus (who as it turns out was some kind of mass murderer, right?) wears the faintest hint of pink from the flares that attend the body of the horse.

I tbought that they were angels, but to my surprise, we something something something, and headed for the skies ...

* * *

The point of the party is having gone to the party. The reward is going to dinner afterward, the two of them, and then home again.

Particulars vary. Tonight there is Elena Petrova, their hostess (her husband is always away somewhere, probably best not to ask what he's doing), smart and noisy and defiantly vulgar (an ongoing debate between Peter and Rebecca-does she know about the jewelry and the lipstick and the glasses, is she making a statement, how could she be this rich and intelligent and not know?); there is the small, very good Artschwager and the large, pretty good Marden and the Gober sink, into which some guest-never identified-once emptied an ashtray; there is Jack Johnson seated in waxy majesty on a loveseat beside Linda Neilson, who speaks animatedly into the arctic topography of Jack's face; there is the first drink (vodka on the rocks; Elena serves a famously obscure brand she has shipped in from Moscow-really, can Peter or anyone tell the difference?), followed by the second drink, but not a third; there is the insistent glittery buzz of the party, of enormous wealth, always a little intoxicating no matter how familiar it becomes; there is the quick check on Rebecca (she's fine, she's talking to Mona and Amy, thank God for a wife who can manage on her own at these things); there is the inevitable conversation with Bette Rice (sorry he had to miss the opening, he hears the Inksys are fantastic, he'll come by this week) and with Doug Petrie (lunch, a week from Monday, absolutely) and with the other Linda Neilson (yeah, sure, I'll come talk to your students, call me at the gallery and we'll figure out a date); there is peeing under a Kelly drawing newly hung in the powder room (Elena can't know, can she-if she'd hang this in a bathroom she's got to be serious about her eyeglasses, too); there is the decision to have that third vodka after all; there is the flirtation with Elena-Hey, love the vodka; Angel, you know you can get it here anytime you like (he knows he is known, and probably scorned, for working it, the whole hey-I'd-do-you-if-I-had-the-chance thing); there is scrawny, hysterical Mike Forth, standing with Emmett near the Terence Koh, getting drunk enough to start homing in on Rebecca (Peter sympathizes with Mike, can't help it, he's been there-thirty years later he's still amazed that Joanna Hurst did not love him, not even a little); there is a glimpse of the improbably handsome hired waiter talking surreptitiously on his cell in the kitchen (boyfriend, girlfriend, sex for hire-at least the kids who serve at these things have a little mystery about them); then back to the living room where-oops-Mike has managed to corner Rebecca after all, he's talking furiously to her and she's nodding, searching for the rescue Peter promised her; there is Peter's quick check to make sure no one has been ignored; there is the goodbye conversation with Elena, who's sorry she missed seeing the Vincents (Call me, there are a few other things I'd love to show you); there is the strangely ardent goodbye from Bette Rice (something's up); the claiming of Rebecca (Sorry, I've got to take her away now, see you soon, I hope); the panicky parting grin from Mike, and goodbye goodbye, thank you, see you next week, yeah, absolutely, call me, okay, goodbye.

Another cab, back downtown. Peter thinks sometimes that at the end, whenever it comes, he will remember riding in cabs as vividly as he recalls anything else from his earthly career. However noxious the smells (no air freshener this time, just a minor undercurrent of bile and crankcase oil) or how aggressively inept the driving (one of those accelerate-and-brake guys, this time), there is that sense of enclosed flotation; of moving unassaulted through the streets of this improbable city.

They are crossing Central Park along Seventy- ninth Street, one of the finest of all nocturnal taxi rides, the park sunk in its green-black dream of itself, its little green-gold lights marking circles of grass and pavement at their bases. There are, of course, desperate people out there, some of them refugees, some of them criminals; we do as well as we can with these impossible contradictions, these endless snarls of loveliness and murder.

Rebecca says, "You didn't save me from Hurricane Mike."

"Hey, I wrested you away the second I saw you with him."

She's sitting inwardly, hugging her own shoulders though there's not even a hint of cold.

She says, "I know you did."

But still, he has failed her, hasn't he?

He says, "Something seems to be going on with Bette."

"Rice?"

How many other Bettes were at the party? How much of his life is devoted to answering these obvious little questions; how much closer does he move to a someday stroke with every fit of mini-rage over the fact that Rebecca has not been paying attention, has not been with the goddamned program?

" Mm-hm."

"What, do you think?"

"I have no idea. Something about when she said goodbye. I felt something. I'll give her a call tomorrow."

"Bette's at an age."

"As in, menopause?"

"Among other things."

They thrill him, these little demonstrations of womanly certainty. They're right out of James and Eliot, aren't they? We are in fact made of the same material as Isabel Archer, as Dorothea Brooke.

"Excerpted from 'By Nightfall: A Novel' by Michael Cunningham. Published in October 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. 2010 by Mare Vaporum Corp. All rights reserved."

(Continues...)



Excerpted from By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham Copyright © 2010 by Mare Vaporum Corp.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Reading Group Guide

1. What were your first impressions of Peter and Rebecca? What aspects of their marriage were presented in the opening scenes as they observed a traffic accident, attended a party, and went to bed?

2. Ethan’s nickname originated as a reference to his parents’ unplanned parenthood so late in life. Did the label shape his impressions of himself, or were his problems inevitable? Did his parents and his sisters (from eldest to youngest: Rosemary, Julianne, Rebecca) expect too little of him?

3. How did Peter’s and Rebecca’s families influence them well into adulthood? What did Peter and Rebecca offer each other when they were first dating? How did the basis for their attraction change over the years?

4.  What is Peter’s role in the lives of the artists he represents, beyond securing a high price for their work? What intangible benefits does he sell to his buyers? What makes him good at his job?

5. How does the concept of leverage play out in By Nightfall? Who are the novel’s most vulnerable and most powerful characters?

6. How does Uta’s philosophy of life different from Peter’s? How does she balance the reality of her role as a businesswoman with the intuitive and emotional aspects of her profession? For her, is there any distinction between her profession and her passions?

7. What does By Nightfall say about making art, and marketing it? How does Peter’s work compare to Rebecca’s in shaping the futures of creative individuals? What new freedoms and challenges does twenty-first-century American culture bring to creative fields, and to our personal lives?

8. Ultimately, what is Bea blaming her father for? Is she right to blame him? What does he teach her to expect from men? When Rebecca worries about her daughter, what fears is she also expressing about her own future?

9. What purposes does sex serve for the novel’s primary characters? How did sexuality shape Rebecca’s self-esteem before and after she was married? What longings is Peter responding to at the moment of the kiss? For Mizzy, does sex present anything more than an opportunity to be manipulative?

10. How does the purpose of marriage evolve throughout Peter and Rebecca’s life together? What reasons do they have for remaining married after Bea has left for college? What identity did marriage create for them in their careers?

11. Michael Cunningham provides us with Peter’s thoughts throughout By Nightfall. How would the novel have unfolded if it had been told from Rebecca’s point of view instead?

12. Is Mizzy a victim or a victimizer, or both? If he were your little brother, would you respond to him the way Rebecca does?

13. The novel concludes with the beginning of an honest dialogue. How much of Peter and Rebecca’s previous talks had been truthful? Had they been honest with themselves? What predictions do you have for the closing line’s conversation and its aftermath?

14. Discuss the novel’s title: What symbolic nightfall exists in the characters’ lives? How does it apply to the concept of aging and other transitions that may seem difficult to navigate in the “dark”?

15. Through his fiction, what has Cunningham shown us about the nature of love and longing? What new facets are revealed in By Nightfall? What role do artists (literary, visual, and otherwise) play in his storylines?

Reading group guide written by Amy Root / Amy Root's Wordshop, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 120 )
Rating Distribution

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(21)

4 Star

(28)

3 Star

(41)

2 Star

(13)

1 Star

(17)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 121 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 21, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Brilliant insights to the human condition-A challenging subject matter-

    Peter and Rebecca, a middle aged New York City couple, a grown daughter off to Boston, and Rebecca's younger brother coming to visit are the main characters. News of Rebecca's brother's visit brings apprehension and concern. Still, he arrives, straight from somewhere in the Far East. His arrival affects both, but not more than Peter, who is surprisingly finding himself drawn to the young lad after a couple of mistaken encounters that allow Peter to see him for the first time. They live in upper-class Soho, modern-day Manhattan, and the appearance of Ethan tests the couple's relationship in ways none of them ever would have seen coming. The author has brilliant insights into the human condition and gets it across beautifully in his writing technique dealing with a challenging subject matter.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 25, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A complex novel that sticks with you after you've finished.

    Michael Cunningham's latest book since Flesh and Blood (2007) is a literary internal monologue of sorts. A book about that strange and complicated world of Adulthood. A book that exposes our fears through its words, but charmingly underestimates itself.

    Told in a close-third-person narrative, we follow Peter Harris and his wife Rebecca as their every day routine is upended by the reappearance of Rebecca's nomad younger brother, Mizzy. Peter is our main character, and the beauty and the crux of Cunningham's novel is that for as much as we want to like Peter, he makes it impossible.

    We dislike Peter, but we understand him, and eventually, we feel sorry for him; for during all the pages leading up to the end, he's tried to justify his actions to us, only to be foiled by fate himself. He's the victim in the end. He fell into waywardness by claiming it all happened by "accident." Only knowing it was happening made it not an accident, and in the end he is exposed.

    We struggle to like Peter and his flaws and issues because for better or worse, he is our information source. We're in his head, his thoughts, his weaknesses, his poses and postures. We know his script and his stage directions. It becomes difficult to tell if we don't like him because that's the way he is, or because Cunningham's writing is flawed, thereby making the book flawed. By Nightfall is one long (short) existentialist angst-ridden character-driven novel. Like he writes, Cunningham seems to be "still working something out" with this novel, and that's the either the brilliance or the downfall of it. There's a chance that it's all one big cliche. I can't tell. By Nightfall is like a work of art that you have to think about and return back to many times in order to understand, but understanding isn't meant to happen, so it never does.

    Did I love it as much as I loved The Hours? In the end, yes I think I did, but for very different reasons.

    *Update 10/23/2010: After thinking over this book for the last couple days I've realized there's something unsettling about By Nightfall that I can't quite put my finger on. It's the reasons I say it's hard to like Peter; it's the reason I think this novel is either amazing or amazingly cliche. For those of you who loved The Hours and think that's why you might like to read this one, start it with an open mind. It's nothing like The Hours, but that doesn't make it bad. Something has to be said for the fact that it's still got me thinking about it four days later, afterall.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 22, 2011

    Highly Recommend

    Moving book that will stay in your mind for a good while.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 8, 2011

    Not My Cup of Tea

    It's never a good sign when you struggle to finish a book. Since the writer is unquestionably skilled and intelligent, perhaps the point of it all was simply beyond me. It was meandering and made me feel I'd wasted my time and money reading it. I didn't care about the characters or their incredibly charmed lives and the story just didn't grab me. I couldn't decide whether it felt more like therapy or like homework. To that point, it seems well-suited for book club discussion...

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 11, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Shows How Love Can Destroy Your Life, or Give You a Reason to Live

    This book is a bit short and compact, but contains a rather interesting story. There isn't a lot of action here. On the surface, it's the tale of a middle-aged, married man falling in love with his young brother-in-law. However, on a deeper level, it's about what makes someone feel successful. Most of all, you will think about what makes a person stay in a relationship, and the difference between complacency and actual happiness. The story also gives one cause to consider the nature of sexual orientation, and the fact that it is somewhat fluid for many people. True thinkers will be fascinated by this glimpse into the human heart.
    Michael Travis Jasper, Author of the Novel "To Be Chosen"

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2013

    Boring

    I couldn't finish this book. The author's style of writing was boring, the characters were lacking personality. Didn't seem as if much was going on and just didn't holdmy attention enough to finish reading it. Waste of money and of time.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 8, 2013

    Michael Cunningham is one of my favorite authors.  I've read - a

    Michael Cunningham is one of my favorite authors.  I've read - and thoroughly enjoyed - everything he's written to date.  But he missed the mark by a large margin with this book.  His style of writing, with looooooong, run-on sentences, chopped up with interspersed narrative that is supposed to reflect "inner thoughts" (what's up with that?) bog the reader down and, ultimately are annoying.  Further, as other critics have noted, the characters are difficult to care about.  They're tentative (especially the protagonist, Peter, and come across as flawed but wishy-washy.  Peter is the fine, upstanding citizen with a solid, if boring, job.  No hint of questioning sexuality.  Yet here comes Mizzy (is he gay?  bi?) and suddenly Peter's world is rocked with just a tentative kiss?  Yes, I continued reading avidly, but only with the hope that SOMETHING would wake these characters from the stupor they all seem to be in.  I wish I had skipped it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 4, 2012

    An amazing journey of denial and self-discovery

    If I hadn't grown up outside of New York, lived there for eight years, then moved back, I don't think I would have appreciated all the things the author was trying to accomplish. Setting the scene with descriptions of city life, of the clothes being worn, the restaurants attended, the parties, may all seem superficial and snobby, but when I lived there, it was so easy to fall into that. I rarely got to hobnob with the higher echelons, but it's utterly believable to hear everything in the voice it was presented in. Especially when Peter, as well off as he is, has the job he has in the art world. He even describes himself as a servant, and how he was keep track of all those things to have his pulse remain on the heart of the city, to find the best and hottest for his gallery, and his clients. He must keep up appearances. It is in this minutiae, of the city, of the city life, the fashion, the food, and especially the art (get that Wikipedia open) that Michael Cunningham brings us into the story.
    With every book of his I've read, I am never disappointed in finding sentences, clauses even, that go so deep to the heart of things. He can write like poetry, and never feel pretentious (unless of course, his characters are pretentious, like in this book) But, even then, things still leap off the page at you. The character of Peter is great in this, he loves art, he seeks out art to sell, so he is always searching, reveling, discovering, and loving beauty. But, as we soon find out, when his struggling brother-in-law, comes to stay with him and his wife, or when reaching out to his daughter, living in Boston, we also find out how his artistic temperament leads to mercurial shifts in the dynamics of his relationships with his family members. Also, Michael Cunningham delves into and discovers the events in Peter's past that correlate with his feelings and actions in the present. This type of insight can only be reached in our own lives, if we give our most treasured memories the same care, devotion, and meditation, as Michael Cunningham does in the construction of his main character.
    In summary, the ultimate plot of the book might seem conventional, but I gasped aloud at some points, like I was reading a thriller or something. So many things are such a shock, and yet seemed so logical. The way emotions and standpoints shifted or edged one way or the other, but never seemed to be conclusive or settle, reminded me of the book THE ELUSIVE EMBRACE, and how that book describes a subculture of New York, and how the people in it never will and never have to, grow up. They can always reinvent themselves, and sometimes they have to, to stay afloat in the Big Apple.
    The only struggle others might find with this book is the pretentiousness of some of its characters. I've known these people, I've sometimes been these people, but that is no reason not to read it. Some readers can't get past what they are reading, no matter how well it's written, due to subject matter, and that's fine. If you are one of those people, then don't read this. But, I found it utterly moving, so specific sometimes, that I found feelings and thoughts of my own articulated in such detailed ways, that it gave me clarity. Truly, an amazing read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2011

    NO STARS

    A COMPLETE WASTE OF TIME. The plot and characters could not be more boring and as the reader you never care about any of them. Why on earth is Cunningham getting such rave reviews from NYTimes? Have stopped looking at the NYT Best Sellers because apparently their reviewers don't know their heads from their a** as to what is a "GOOD READ".

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2011

    lack of attribution is disappointing

    I have been a Cunningham fan through all of his books to date. However, I am extrememly disappointed that in "By Nightfall" he makes repeated reference to the line from "Madame Bovary" about human language failing to move the stars to pity and nowhere does he give credit to Flaubert. He either assumed noone will make the connection, or to the contrary, everyone will recognize the concept as originating with Flaubert and, therefore, no need to give attribution. When Graham Greene used this quote he did give proper credit. It seems to me that is the least that Cunningham should have done.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 2, 2011

    Very good book

    Really captures the anxiety of New York art scene. Interesting, well written, and moving in its own way.

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  • Posted February 26, 2011

    Overly Pretentious and Verbose

    This is my first read by Michael Cunningham and if this book is a reflection of his "talents" then my condolences. The plot was lost amongst his overbearing need to describe any asinine thought that crossed the main character's mind. The story was rather pointless and was an endless cycle of miniscule characters with no real value or purpose. I continued reading hoping that by some grace Cunningham would salvage this facade of a novel before it ended. I was wrong.

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  • Posted January 15, 2011

    ok read

    I was unsure what this story was telling until about 100 pages. Not a great read just ok

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted March 18, 2011

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    Posted November 25, 2010

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