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#356 ~ By Nightfall

By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham

Published by: Picador

Published on: August 26, 2011 (paperback)

Page Count: 256

Genre: Literary Fiction

My Reading Format: Reading copy sent to me by the publisher for agreeing to participate in Book Club

Available Formats: Hardcover, paperback, eBook and audiobook


My Review

Peter and Rebecca have a comfortable marriage. They are both successful at what they do, their daughter, though troubled, no longer lives at home and they’re free to be themselves. They have their routines, such as Saturday night sex and Sunday time together. While all seems to be going smoothly, Peter is having difficulty being in his forties. The polish on his art gallery is losing it’s shine. He’s restless. Then, Mizzy, Rebecca’s much younger brother, comes to live with them. Mizzy, short for mistake, a family joke, is thinking about going back to school to study art. He’s had difficulty with drugs in the past. Peter’s not enthusiastic. He’s got his own life to sort out. What he didn’t count on was that Mizzy’s arrival would speed up the process.

By Nightfall got off to a slow start for me. It is narrated by Peter, a middle aged white man living in New York City. While he’s not fabulously wealthy, he and Rebecca created a good life for themselves and their family. His selfish existential problems did not grab me in any way. The first third of the book reminded me in tone and content a great deal of The Emperor’s Children that it made me wonder if  I could make it through this relatively slim book. There was this detached yet thoroughly self-absorbed quality to Peter’s inner life that turned me off. It wasn’t until Mizzy entered the picture that the book began to engage me. Still, there were times I scan read paragraphs of Peter’s inner dialog to keep my reading from stalling.

I cannot say that I gave myself fully to By Nightfall, but it did raise some interesting questions. I found the connections made between Peter’s dwindling fulfillment at work and his changing sexual desires to be interesting. Was he simply turning to something new to regain some sensation of the newness of life or did questioning his life to date open his mind to new things? I am not at all sarcastic when I say that I think a good deal of Peter’s issue was that he thought too much about life instead of talking about it with others. In assuming that he was the only one who could solve his problems and that Rebecca was perfectly content outside of her worries about Mizzy and their daughter Bea, he was doing himself a huge disservice.

By Nightfall didn’t enthrall me the way that I had hoped when I first saw that Linus’ Blanket and Devourer of Books were featuring a Picador title in August’s Book Club. I was new to Michael Cunningham’s writing and, although I’ve not even seen the movie, I was anticipating some good book time with the author of  The Hours. Cunningham is a talented writer. His prose was smooth even during those times when the reading came slow for me. I did not come near despising this book the way I did The Emperor’s Children. In the end, I simply wasn’t the best fit for this novel.

13 Comments

  • At 2011.08.23 00:07, Alyce said:

    There are times (many of them) when I am hesitant to read literary fiction because it can be slow and depressing. And I never know which literary book is going to strike a chord with me and which ones are going to bore me. It’s really a crap shoot.

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    • At 2011.08.23 06:37, Sandy said:

      Yeah, I would have had pretty steep expectations for this guy, I’ve heard so much about him and he has gotten enough awards. But those are usually the ones I don’t “get”. Ha! Maybe this isn’t the first Cunningham we should read.

      • At 2011.08.23 07:59, Meghan said:

        Despite loving The Hours by Michael Cunningham, I think I’ll stay away from this one. Both you and Nicole seem pretty lukewarm on it.

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        • At 2011.08.23 08:44, S. Krishna said:

          Hrm…I was initially interested in this book, but might not be picking it up anytime soon. Thanks for the honest review!

          • At 2011.08.23 08:44, Marie said:

            After seeing Ron Charles’ review of this I was all set to read it, then Mr. Charles himself said skip it for THE HOURS. I still haven’t gotten to it, and I may never!

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            • At 2011.08.23 09:47, Jennifer said:

              I now am wishing I read The Hours after your comments. The writing was good, but just not an engaging story. I will have to be sure to pick up The Hours so I can make a comparison.

              • At 2011.08.23 11:00, bermudaonion (Kathy) said:

                I think all of the inner turmoil you described would get to me. I’m not sure this is the book for me.

                • At 2011.08.23 11:13, Ti said:

                  This sounds perfect to me. Just the kind of story I like.

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                  • At 2011.08.23 13:22, Kailana said:

                    That’s too bad this didn’t work better for you. I really enjoyed his previous books…

                    • At 2011.08.23 21:32, Michelle said:

                      “Was he simply turning to something new to regain some sensation of the newness of life or did questioning his life to date open his mind to new things?”

                      My thought is yes, he was turning to something new to regain some sensation of the newness of life. It was different. It was dangerous. To me, his burgeoning relationship and changing sexuality was no different than buying a sports car or taking a long, crazy extreme sports trip. (The more I talk about this book, the more I do not like it.)

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