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By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham

By Nightfall (2010)

by Michael Cunningham

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Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
I would love to have been there at the genesis of the idea for this book.

I can picture Michael Cunningham having an after dinner aperitif with a bunch of his intellectual friends, perhaps at his summer home on the Cape, discussing, perhaps a bit condescendingly, the boom in gay romance novels written by [and, largely, for] women. Perhaps they chortled over the various tropes – hurt/comfort, master/slave and of course the silliest and, arguably most offensive, “gay for you.” For the uninformed, it’s pretty self-explanatory – an otherwise straight (and presumably, “straight acting”) male character falls hard for another man. The caveat being, he still identifies as straight. He’s not someone who was heretofore latent or closeted. Nope. He only feels sexual desire for one man and naturally it’s a by-product of romantic feelings. Thus, “gay for you.”

I’m imagining maybe a wager was made…could Cunningham take that premise and turn it into art? By my estimation, the answer is yes. This isn’t a great book, but it’s a very good one.

The plot itself is pretty lean. Peter, a relatively successful, middle-aged art dealer is happily married to Rebecca, the editor of a respected art journal. They live an affluent life in New York’s Soho district. His only real heartbreak – a strained relationship with his twenty-two year old daughter who lives in Boston. Around the same time Peter finds out that a fellow gallery owner and friend is dying of breast cancer and in the midst of mounting yet another show of au courant yet disposable art, Rebecca’s beautiful 24 year old brother Ethan (or Mizzy, as he is known), a former drug addict, free-spirit and master manipulator, comes to stay with them.

Basically, Peter becomes obsessed with Mizzy. He mistakenly believes his infatuation is love, but it’s really because the young man reminds him of so many things he believes he’s lost. Mizzy uncannily resembles a young Rebecca. He’s close in age to Peter’s estranged daughter. His physique reminds Peter of the sort of timeless art that he truly esteems, forcing him examine his unrealized ambitions for his gallery. And the boy’s youth itself makes Peter yearn to be young and unburdened. It’s a mid-life crisis writ large through the lens of the exclusive NYC art community. I enjoyed the story, such as it is. I’m embarrassed to admit this is my first Cunningham novel and so I was surprised at how formal and mannered his writing style is. There’s definitely a rococo “more is more” aesthetic at play here and sometimes the narrative gets bogged down in the overwrought descriptions, similes and metaphors, no matter how clever or beautifully done.

Oh and yes, at different points in the story both Peter and Mizzy actually use the phrase, “gay for you.” So even though it hardly qualifies as a romance, it’s safe to say this is Mr. Cunningham’s official entry into the “gay for you” sweeps. Fancy that. ( )
  blakefraina | Jul 21, 2015 |
There were about an equal amount of things I liked about this book as I disliked. He writes so well that I can’t help but smile and enjoy it for what it is. On the other hand the story is almost a satire, knowingly or not. It’s one of those "so in love with it’s own New York-ness" books that I was laughing at parts that I don’t think were supposed to be comedy. It’s an odd mix; sometimes the writing is so down to Earth and natural that I don’t know that I’ve read it’s equal, other times it was so pretentious and fey that my eyes rolled back in my head.

I think I’m all full up on stories about people who work at art galleries in New York. Surely at this point there have been more fictional people with this job than real ones. ( )
1 vote bongo_x | Jan 30, 2015 |
Cunningham is maybe the only author I can think of where his prose is so stunningly beautiful that the plot and character development do not have much of an impact on my enjoyment of the book. ( )
  lexmccall | Sep 3, 2014 |
I liked this book much more than I expected to. And definitely more than the first 100 pages would suggest. In the beginning it seemed like this blah blah book about a sophisticated rich gallery owner in New York with a mild sense of existential unease in an otherwise happy enough life...who cares...anyway, this had my guard down and so when it got to the meat of the story I was bowled over and completely shocked. And it carries right through to the end. I couldn't stop reading it, wanted to sneak in a few pages at my desk at work. I loved how the book ended, it is a surprisingly good insight. A book for adults. I wish I could have a beer with Michael Cunningham. ( )
  ahovde01 | Jul 20, 2014 |
I've read a few reviews of By Nightfall, and I must admit its critics are not altogether wrong. Some say it is pretentious, and yes, Michael Cunningham is inclined to deploy words like 'infelicitous' or 'corpuscular' at regular intervals. Others say it lacks dramatic tension, and yes, protagonist Peter Harris' stable, upper-middle class life as a Manhattan art dealer is never really threatened by the arrival of his wayward brother-in-law. It is hard to sympathise with such privileged neuroticism. Yet Cunningham's writing remains compelling.

Jeanette Winterson's admiring review in the New York Times was unsurprising, given that Cunningham's economy with words and ability to construct beautiful, writerly sentences recall Winterson at her best. Cunningham chooses his words with same meticulous care that Peter Harris selects artworks for his gallery. When a friend tells Peter, "You've always been in love with beauty itself. You're funny that way", she might have been speaking of the author. By Nightfall is indeed a celebration of beauty itself. ( )
  whirled | Jun 10, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
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. And if some of the interventions on art are too long — well, too long for whom? For what? Good novels are novels that provoke us to argue with the writer, not just novels that make us feel magically, mysteriously at home. A novel in which everything is perfect is a waxwork. A novel that is alive is never perfect.
This is a pensive, elegant novel whose emotional reserves draw on the steady accretion of detail, cerebral rumination, and finely observed scenes plucked from the quotidian. But there's an air of implausibility to the machination and pacing of its thin plot, rescued only by Cunningham's crystalline prose and the novel's thematic precision and reach, which articulates the allure of beauty and its special power to make fools of us all.

Cunningham’s novel is a homage to Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. Mann’s protagonist, Gustav Von Aschenbach, is a renowned literary theorist and author. Like Peter Harris, Aschenbach is heterosexual, has been married for a long time and is also in the clutches of paralyzing doubt about his life’s achievement...With By Nightfall, Cunningham deliberately glances back toward Mann’s stylistic austerity and subject matter to evoke a kind of autumnal despair. Here is decay, mortality, the longing for youth and beauty; here is what happens when one denies passion, goes quietly into that good nightfall. Here is what happens when one acquiesces to old age, rather than raging against it. But Cunningham also allows for another very real truth: It is absurd to rail against it. The impressive feat of his novel is that it convincingly holds both positions at once.


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Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
This book is for Gail Hochman and Jonathan Galassi
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The Mistake is coming to stay for a while.
The next couple of hours at the gallery are taken up with what Peter and Rebecca have come to call the Ten Thousand Things (as in, over the phone, "What are you doing?" "Oh, you know, the Ten Thousand Things"), their shorthand for the ongoing avalanche of e-mails and phone calls and meetings, their way of conveying to each other that they're busy but you don't want to know the particulars, they don't even interest me.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374299080, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:32 -0400)

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Peter and Rebecca Harris--mid-forties denizens of Manhattan's SoHo, he a dealer, she an editor--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.… (more)

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