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Book Title: By Nightfall|
The author of the book: Michael Cunningham
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 24.21 MB
Date of issue: August 30th 2011
ISBN 13: 9780312610432
Read full description of the books By Nightfall:Maybe too subtle for me. The story is of a middle-aged art dealer in New York City, Peter, coming to question the value of his work and the solidity of his relationship with his wife, Rebecca. This dawning of doubt is stimulated by the arrival of her much younger brother who is living an aimless life with a track record of unstable relationships with women and men. In his mid-twenties and a Yale drop-out, he has just returned from a long spell mediating at a shrine in Japan. The story they get is that he is unsure what to do with his life and wants to try some career in the arts. They are wary about whether he has returned to a past drug addiction. They still call him Mizzy, the family his family applied over his birth being a mistake.
With a set-up like this, one would expect a lot of melodramatics. But Cunningham has an unusual way of playing with those expectations. While we wait for something significant to happen and our moral judgements to be exercised, we spend a lot of time with Peter as he goes about his business. I enjoyed the window on his world and warmed to his sensibilities and day-to-day interactions with the artists and his staff. Like his trying to engage one brilliant sculptor as a client by a trial placement of one of his works in the garden of a rich, eccentric female customer in Connecticut. Other less gifted artists whose works don’t sell call for kind ways to retire them as clients, while for another moderately talented one he does his best to put on a good show of her work at his gallery. The flow of his mind in daily life comes close to Cunningham’s marvelous channeling of Woolfe’s “Mrs. Dalloway” in his “The Hours”. Warm and lively as a read, not a the challenging emulation of elemental mind we tag stream-of-consciousness.
As time goes on the big question is what is really wrong with his life. We look for cracks in the foundation of his marriage to his wife, who edits an arts magazine. Any big issue over sexuality? Among three grown children, Jake is most concerned about silence that has fallen between him and his youngest, a college-aged daughter working as a waitress in Boston. Does any sense of failure as a parent contribute to Peter's undermining? The loss of his beloved brother to AIDS in the 80’s gnaws at his consciousness as well. And where have all his friends gone?
I can’t tell if this restrained, bloodless tale is some form of indictment of the hollowness of modern life at the core of civilization, which we all tend to take New York City to be. I don’t think so. There is no slicing of our soul here with the pathos of the road not taken. There is no redeeming humor or chaotic scramble for modes of youth like we get from so many masters of the mid-life crises (think Bellow, Updike, Russo). Instead there is a dwelling on art. And maybe with the problems in the temptation to see people as living art.
I do believe esthetics is at the core of finding balance with our being on earth and more of a key to pleasure in life than any happiness you can seek as a goal from having things or through achievements. Cunningham stirs these thoughts up in me, but I don’t quite get his message. Of course, literature, like art, bores us when it can be boiled down to a message. There are some references that raise the question of whether the characters here reflect either Mann’s “Magic Mountain” or his “Death in Venice”. I guess I could use some help with that given that the former is that Rushmore I yearned for but failed to climb and the latter I experienced only as a movie (a dying man uplifted through pining over a beautiful boy in another esthetic capital of the world). I am a fan of the idea that art is supposed to shake you and spit you out, transformed and somehow made better from an alternate view of reality. This book was a bit too tame to really rock my world or transport me out of my humdrum.
Read information about the authorMichael Cunningham is the author of the novels A Home at the End of the World, Flesh and Blood, The Hours (winner of the Pen/Faulkner Award & Pulitzer Prize), Specimen Days, and By Nightfall, as well as the non-fiction book, Land's End: A Walk in Provincetown. His new novel, The Snow Queen, will be published in May of 2014. He lives in New York, and teaches at Yale University.
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