By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham
FSG • $25 • September 28, 2010


Michael Cunningham is best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Hours (which was turned into the movie that got Nicole Kidman her Oscar). His most recent book, Specimen Days, was also well-received by critics; in BookPage, Robert Weibezahl described it as "adventurous and haunting . . . challenging and engaging."

Readers have been waiting five years for another Cunningham novel, and I suspect they will be immediately drawn into the world of Peter and Rebecca Harris, a "happy" middle-aged couple in New York City. The word happy is in quotes because of Peter's constant, questioning interior monologue—"What if she is falling out of love with him? Would it be tragic, or liberating?"

Peter is a successful art dealer and Rebecca is an editor at an art magazine. Their world gets a jolt when Rebecca's younger brother, Mizzy (for "the mistake") comes to visit, eager to find work—"Something in the Arts." Mizzy's youthful presence causes Peter to question his life even more . . .

The excerpt below provides an example of Peter's thoughts early in the novel. He and Rebecca are on their way home from a party.


The cab stops for the light at Sixty-fifth Street.

Here they are: a middle-aged couple in the back of a cab (this driver's name is Abel Hibbert, he's young and jumpy, silent, fuming). Here are Peter and his wife, married for twenty-one (almost twenty-two) years, companionable by now, prone to banter, not much sex anymore but not no sex, not like other long-married couples he could name, and yeah, at a certain age you can imagine bigger accomplishments, a more potent and inextinguishable satisfaction, but what you've made for yourself isn't bad, it's not bad at all. Peter Harris, hostile child, horrible adolescent, winner of various second prizes, has arrived at this ordinary moment, connected, engaged, loved, his wife's breath warm on his neck, going home.

Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me, doop doop de doop . . . .

That song again.

The light changes. The driver accelerates.


Are you interested in By Nightfall? What are you reading today?

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