Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Review: By Nightfall

By Nightfall
By Michael Cunningham
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 2010 
238 pages
From my shelves

By Nightfall

Peter and Rebecca Harris have been married for a long time. They feel settled in their relationship, after living together for many years and raising their daughter. They are comfortable with their careers as Peter sells art to the wealthy and Rebecca edits a magazine. There should be few surprises in their lives. But then Rebecca's brother Mizzy shows up for a visit. He is everything that they are not - immature, flighty, and unsure of where he is going next. His presence sends their carefully ordered lives into chaos and makes them question everything they once believed was certain. 

This is the second novel I've read by Michael Cunningham. He excels at quiet observations and finding the moments when his characters suddenly realize that something has changed. This book is sparsely written, as we follow just one man through his one life. Many of Peter's professional and personal musings are about the nature of art and beauty. He wonders about the ways in which our perceptions of beauty change as we age and questions his ability to act as an artistic gatekeeper, someone who decides which art is worth seeing and which art will remain forever in obscurity. 

That being said, there's a distance between the reader and Peter. I wonder if some of this has to do with my being a young female reader and Peter being an older male character. There are so many novels written about the male midlife crisis, which is obviously not something this woman in her twenties has experienced. That being said, I've read a lot of novels where the narrator is a middle aged man in crisis and this was one of the more interesting and well-written of that specific genre.

What does it take to break someone out of a routine? Is this a good thing? Will the change strengthen our ordered lives or break them? With effortless and beautiful prose, Michael Cunningham guides his characters and his readers through the moment that you realize that you are "no longer the hero of your own story."


  1. I would consider Cunningham's The Hours one of my all-time faves, but I couldn't get through this one. Maybe when I'm in a different mood.

    1. It's decidedly not an action fueled read. I think you have to be in the mood for something slow and contemplative!