In By Nightfall, author Michael Cunningham best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Hours tells the story of a few days in the life of Peter Harris, a New York art dealer with a decades-long marriage to Rebecca; an emotionally and geographically distant daughter; and a habit of falling, as he puts it, “in love with beauty”. The novel, performed by English actor Hugh Dancy, is packed with the gorgeous prose and thoughtful details that are classic Cunningham and Dancy’s flawless narration is well-paced, emotional, and genuine.
Rebecca’s brother an “oops” baby named Ethan but known as Mizzy (short for “the Mistake”) is the golden child of the family, despite years of drug abuse and repeated, failed attempts to live up to the standards his family sets for him. And when he comes to stay with Peter and Rebecca, he’s also the catalyst for Peter’s re-examining of his entire life, from his first crush on an older girl to his relationship with his late brother. Cunningham nails every detail the small moments between Rebecca and Peter, the fears and insecurities Peter has about his own past, the tiny domestic routines that make up a life and Dancy hits every note: His narration moves effortlessly from Peter’s stream-of-consciousness internal monologue to interactions with other characters without a trace of his own English accent, and he adds a hint of Southern drawl to Mizzy and Rebecca (who grew up below the Mason-Dixon line). A cast of supporting characters including egocentric artists, rich collectors, and fellow dealers gets the same meticulous treatment. Cunningham and Dancy both worked on the movie Evening (alongside Dancy’s wife, Claire Danes, who reportedly asked Cunningham to officiate the couple’s private wedding ceremony in 2009) and their collaboration here is poignant and powerful. Blythe Copeland
Peter and Rebecca Harris: mid-40s 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 the family as Mizzy, “the mistake”), shows up for a visit. A beautiful, beguiling 23-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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"[A]n exquisite, slyly witty, warmly philosophical, and urbanely eviscerating tale of the mysteries of beauty and desire, art and delusion, age and love." (Booklist)
This beautifully-written story of an art dealer's mid-life, mid-career, mid-marriage crisis is, as we have come to expect in Michael Cunningham's fiction, rich in allusions, but, except for the big urn protagonist Peter Harris sells to his favorite client, I don't recall any mention of John Keats. But I kept thinking of the poet's tragic paradox by Peter's impossible attempt to find, in the ineffable beauty of sculpture and of a dangerous lover, an experience of the infinite he well knows is at odds with the temporary pleasures and pains of real life. Along the way, although far shorter than Jonathan Franzen's recent blockbuster, By Nightfall similarly makes us wonder if freedom is all it's cracked up to be.
Tell us about yourself! I am a former high school history teacher and now, a semi-retired physician assistant.
Michael Cunningham takes us into the mind of Peter Harris, an New York art dealer who muses over every little detail of his boring life. One wants to shout at the narrator, "Get on with it, already." However, it is not his fault, he's only reading the mind of a man who regales us with every little detail of every little incident in his life and believes that we care. The story has more asides than a Shakespearean play that add little to the plot and do not further the cause of story telling. There is no plot, only subplots, and in the end, nothing is resolved.
Ears picking up the slack so my eyes can work.
Hugh Dancy does a really good job narrating. That’s probably my favorite part of the audiobook (it took a while for it to dawn on me that he was using his American accent rather than his own natural British one...would it be reading too much meaning in that given the story? ha). I see a lot of confused reviewers on this page. No, people in the art world are not the same as the rest of us in terms of how they engage life. I think that might be why it’s not landing for some of you. And this is a story without heroes, really. People who live for beauty on the surface and live in fear for their fading lives and disappointments beneath it.
Honestly I’m not sure I can speak with authority much beyond that right now. Although the writer is obviously very talented, this novel does strike me as undisciplined as the lead character goes in neurotic circles worrying things into the ground that aren’t maybe all that interesting. There are like four or five subjects we hear about over and over again where nothing new is said, just said in a mildly different way. Mizzie. The daughter. Fading youth. I liked hearing about those things, but it seems like the writer was maybe trying to cloud some of the other characters motivations so that we didn’t see the twists coming.
Maybe I’m wrong. I am VERY glad I read the book though. I feel like I learned a lot of about the NYC art scene and the people who populate it. Flavors, colors, textures, etc. Honestly that’s why I read it. Kind of like research, I guess. Curiosity. I LOVE that the book concerned itself so much with art and how people in the art world, how art applies in their practical lives. Other than that, the story takes on hues of American Beauty and Lolita, which works. And it serves to give the author’s musings direction. But yeah. Could have been a little more merciful in the repetition. Density. It felt dense in places.
For those who are frustrated about why characters don’t ask obvious questions, that’s the point. They’re avoiding those questions. Don’t want to face certain truths. That’s what the ending seems to be about, getting the stomach to tell the truth. Reveal oneself rather than be so encumbered by a mask. I’m making it sound cheap. It’s better in the book.
Cunningham does it again. His vision for the tiny heartbreaking meaningful details of like is just astonishing. Just like The Hours I am sure I will listen to this over and over.
Ce n'est pas grave!
Although I enjoyed listening I found the it to be anticlimactic and disappointing at the conclusion. Most of the book was suspenseful but the ending fell short.
Loved " The Hours". Hated this. Overwritten annoying characters that I was hoping would get hit by a bus. Very dissappointing
My interests run to psychology, popular science, history, world literature, and occasionally something fun like Jasper Fforde. It seems like the only free time I have for reading these days is when I'm in the car so I am extremely grateful for audio books. I started off reading just the contemporary stuff that I was determined not to clutter up my already stuffed bookcases with. And now audio is probably 90% of my "reading" matter.
There were times when this book threatened to blossom into greatness but then the threat would harmlessly pass, and we were back to clueless characters with limited self-awareness who pointedly refused to ask obvious questions. This is absolutely maddening. It's forgivable if two characters are in the heat of the moment, but when the author takes pains to have them think about it in advance and then have them discuss it numerous times and never bother to voice something that is very clear to the reader is simply frustrating. It keeps the book from ever advancing past the introductory and superficial issues into something a bit more profound. And yet this book seems to have pretensions of profundity. I could never figure out if Cunningham thought he was truly being profound or if he simply isn't aware that he's only scratching the surface. Just as I could never figure out if the New Yorkers in this book truly believed they were more sophisticated than the rest of us, or if they simply aren't aware that they are merely deformed examples of arrested development.
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