BY NIGHTFALL by Michael Cunningham

BY NIGHTFALL

KIRKUS REVIEW

A surfeit of literary and cultural references can’t disguise a lightweight soap opera.

Literary subject matter is familiar territory for Cunningham (whose 1998 novel, The Hours, won a Pulitzer), but this novel’s incessant evocations of James, Eliot, Joyce, Mann, Fitzgerald, Melville (and Carver and Barthelme and others) makes the narrative feel slight by comparison. Peter is a successful Manhattan art dealer; Rebecca, his wife of 21 years, edits a literary journal that is threatening to fold. “In a long marriage, you learn to identify a multitude of different atmospheres and weathers,” thinks Peter early on, though it may well be that they neither know each other as well nor are as satisfied with their marriage as both initially seem to believe. Complication arrives in the form of Rebecca’s much younger brother—the possibly brilliant, impossibly beautiful Ethan (generally known as “Mizzy,” his unplanned birth was a mistake). He’s a recovering drug addict, or perhaps not so recovering, and he has come to stay with them with the vague idea of doing “Something in the Arts.” Ponders Peter of their guest, “It’s hardly beyond understanding, neither the straight A's that led to Yale nor the drugs that led elsewhere.” Peter and Rebecca have a daughter near Mizzy’s age, who feels inexplicable (to Peter) bitterness toward her father. Peter also had a homosexual older brother, long dead, whose memory continues to haunt him. Mizzy might serve as a stand-in for Peter’s brother, for his daughter, even for Peter’s wife (whom he resembles in her younger, prettier days). He might also arouse incestuous feelings in Rebecca. Possibilities resolve themselves amid aesthetic pronouncements on how “a real work of art can be owned but should not be subject to capture” and that it is “something that will tell the world (poor forgetful world) that evanescence is not all.”

“Does America get the art it deserves?” wonders Peter. Or the novel?

Pub Date: Oct. 5th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-374-29908-8
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2010




THE “WE’RE NOT DRINKING THE KOOL-AID” LIST OF 2010 (ACCLAIMED BOOKS—OR BOOKS BY ACCLAIMED AUTHORS—THAT DIDN’T LIVE UP TO OUR EXPECTATIONS):

Fiction BY NIGHTFALL by Michael Cunningham
by Michael Cunningham
Nonfiction ABOUT A MOUNTAIN by John D’Agata
by John D’Agata
Fiction IMPERIAL BEDROOMS by Bret Easton Ellis
by Bret Easton Ellis
Fiction FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen
by Jonathan Franzen

MORE BY MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM

FictionTHE SNOW QUEEN by Michael Cunningham
by Michael Cunningham
FictionSPECIMEN DAYS by Michael Cunningham
by Michael Cunningham
NonfictionLAND’S END by Michael Cunningham
by Michael Cunningham

SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

FictionTOMORROW by Graham Swift
by Graham Swift
FictionTHE SAME RIVER TWICE by Ted Mooney
by Ted Mooney
FictionAN OBJECT OF BEAUTY by Steve Martin
by Steve Martin