Monday, December 27, 2010

A Review of By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham

By Nightfall: A Novel
4 out of 5: In By Nightfall, Michael Cunningham’s sixth novel, Peter and Rebecca Harris have a comfortable, if complacent, marriage. Peter runs a mildly successful art gallery, and Rebecca works for a soon-to-be sold art magazine. In a textbook example of the “stranger comes to town” plot, the Harris’s relationship is thrown off balance when Rebecca’s feckless and beautiful younger brother, Ethan, comes to visit.

Cunningham writes intelligently about the art scene, but the primary focus of this novel is on the characters rather than the context. By Nightfall explores the precariousness of human relationships with sensitivity without shying away from the worst parts of human nature. With a fluid, stream-of-consciousness style of narration, Cunningham enters into Peter’s head and reveals his deepest thoughts and darkest desires. This point of view captures Peter’s second-by-second existence in a way that feels real and honest. Some of Peter’s decisions seem a bit impulsive and out of character, but, on the whole, By Nightfall is a revealing portrait of a man who almost loses everything in his reckless quest for love.


Greg Zimmerman said...

Interesting review - thanks! You and I saw this one completely differently. Instead of stream-of-consciousness, I thought Cunnigham's narration was extremely deliberate and measured. That's evidenced by his constantly interrupting Peter's conversation to give us Peter's thoughts on what he just said or to give the reader a different interpretation of what whoever he's talking to just said. That was irritating to me. Also, I just felt like the whole thing smacked of pretension. The story was an interesting twist on the love triangle motif, to be sure, but all the peripherals got in the way of me enjoying the writing or the story itself. Glad to see a well-written review of someone who liked the book, though. There's definitely something here - it just seemed like the whole wasn't nearly as good as the sum of its parts.

Here's my review, if you're interested:

Zibilee said...

I have been curious about this book since it came out, but now hearing that the writing is a bit stream-of-consciousness turns me off a bit. I am not a big fan of that, but this book has such appeal for me, that now I am really on the fence! Thanks for the great review!

Gayle said...

Hi Gwen! I've had my eye on this one - this is one of the more positive reviews I've read of it. Thanks - will check it out.