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.