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
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.