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Book Review of 'By Nightfall', by Michael Cunningham, Pulitzer Prize Winning Author of 'The Hours'

Updated on April 1, 2012
MayG profile image

May has a MA in Creative Writing from Macquarie University, NSW. She spends her days reading, running and fighting chronic writer's block.

Read it for Yourself!

Firstly, I just want to say this review DOES NOT contain any spoilers! What would be the fun in giving away the ending, when I want you to read this book for yourself?

A Little Snippet from the Book...

"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. 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." - By Nightfall, p13.

About "By Nightfall"

Michael Cunningham is the kind of author whose astounding understanding of humanity and his ability to articulate it, takes your breath away.

I read this book in a matter of hours, it was seriously impossible to put down.

As an aspiring writer, I am both inspired and discouraged when I read his work. Inspired that it is somehow possible to articulate the most seemingly inexplicable and transient sensations and emotions, yet discouraged, because I know that I will never be the kind of writer that I want to be.

By Nightfall is set in New York. Forty-four year old Peter, and his wife Rebecca live in a SoHo loft. Peter is a reasonably well-known and successful art-dealer, Rebecca owns an arts and culture magazine. They seem to have it all.

But of course, nothing is ever as idyllic as it seems. Peter is having a mid-life crisis. He's coming to terms with his own loss of youth and trying to accept that his wife too is getting older. He is mourning the loss of the woman she once was, and the man he has never quite managed to be. Added to that, is his confusion and sadness at the anger his grown-up daughter Bea has towards him, and his complete inability to know how to make things right.

Then Mizzy, Rebecca's much younger, drug-addicted, brother comes to stay. Peter sees him as both a young, male version of his wife, and also as a re-embodiment of his own brother, Matthew who died when still a young man. Poor Mizzy - his nickname is short for mistake because he was born to aging parents when his siblings were already adults.

Peter finds himself questioning his marriage, his sexuality, his role as an art-dealer, his success as a father and his responsibility as a brother-in-law.

Cunningham dips in and out of the present and past (after all, it is the past that has made the characters what they are in the present) back into times when he and Rebecca were young and his brother was still alive.

Cunningham describes Peter's neurosis so sensitively, it is impossible to not to sympathize and empathize with his predicament. He writes with an aching sense of mortality, of futility, but yet at the end, there is hope.

Like The Hours, Cunningham picks you up and places you squarely in the middle of the protagonist's life. So perfectly does he describe the settings, smells, sensations of living in Manhattan, it is like being there. He describes feelings and emotions you can immediately identify with, but didn't know they could actually be expressed.

Even the minor characters in the story are developed so fully, you feel as if you know them intimately. It's the kind of book that when you finish it you feel as if you are leaving a world you've been part of.

Cunningham's style of writing is full of surprises.  It's as much anticipation in the beauty of his prose as the story he is telling that keeps you wanting to read on.

Other Books by Michael Cunningham

About Michael Cunningham

Michael Cunningham is the author of The Hours which won the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer Prize. It was also made into a movie, starring Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Nicole Kidman. Kidman won an Oscar for her portrayal of the tormented novelist Virginia Woolf.

Michael Cunningham grew up in Pasadena, California but now lives in New York. He has a degree in English Literature from Stanford University, and a Master of Fine Arts from the Iowa Writers' Workshop.  He is a recipient of many awards: a Michener Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and the Whiting Writers'Award.

In addition to writing, he has also taught creative writing at various institutions, including the prestigious Yale University.  

Wouldn't you love to be taught Creative Writing by this brilliant man?

(info from Michael Cunningham's official website and Wikipedia)


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    • MayG profile image

      May Galnou 6 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      Hi C-Bless. Thanks so much for reading it! May.

    • C-Bless profile image

      C-Bless 6 years ago from Canada

      You did an awesome job writing his review. I generally do not read this genre but your review makes me want to go buy the book right now. Thank you for bring this novel to our attention, and for the follow.

    • MayG profile image

      May Galnou 7 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      Hi Mquee, thanks so much for reading my review and commenting!

    • mquee profile image

      mquee 7 years ago from Columbia, SC

      I don't believe Mr. Cunningham could have a better advocate for his work. You offer a very tantalizing morsel to those of us looking for a good read. Thank you for sharing.

    • MayG profile image

      May Galnou 7 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      Hi JayeWisdom, Thank you so much for your lovely and encouraging comment. You've no idea how much I appreciate it!!

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 7 years ago from Deep South, USA

      MayG...You may not think you're a talented writer, but I beg to differ. Your review of BY NIGHTFALL is well written prose, and it makes me want to read the book. Reviews that are dry and formulaic do not have that effect. Thanks for piquing my interest in this book! Jaye

    • MayG profile image

      May Galnou 7 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      Hi Jaynie2000, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! Thanks for stopping by.

    • Jaynie2000 profile image

      Jaynie2000 7 years ago

      Sounds like an interesting read. I may have to check it out. Thanks!