Friday, October 8, 2010

Book Review: "By Nightfall" by Michael Cunningham

Michael Cunningham, it's so good to have you back. After writing a number of great books and one of my favorite books of all time (The Hours), Cunningham's last book, Specimen Days, was an interesting experiment. But with the release of By Nightfall, I believe he is right back at the top of his game, creating an emotionally compelling and intriguing story of love, longing, happiness and family dysfunction.

Peter and Rebecca Harris are a New York married couple in their early 40s. Peter is an art dealer and Rebecca is the editor of a struggling arts and culture magazine. They are mildly happy; both have flirted with affairs but seem rooted to their life together and the struggles they are having with their daughter. And into this complacency comes Rebecca's much-younger brother, Ethan, aka Mizzy (short for The Mistake), a beautiful but flawed young man who has drifted from thing to thing in his life—scholastic success to drug addiction, woman to man, career ambition to a search for inner peace. In just a few short days, their lives (Peter's in particular) change dramatically, as Peter's obsession with Mizzy takes him on an as-yet-undiscovered path.

At his best, Cunningham can weave compelling narrative out of fairly "normal" situations and create flawed characters who remain deserving of our empathy and, sometimes, sympathy. And with By Nightfall, Cunningham is at his best. This book is somewhat short but tremendously powerful and is a wonderful meditation on life, love, loss and art. Read it.

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