Peter and Rebecca Harris: mid-forties denizens of Manhattan's SoHo, nearing the apogee of committed careers in the arts--he a dealer, she an editor. With a spacious loft, a college-age daughter in Boston, and lively friends, they are admirable, enviable contemporary urbanites with every reason, it seems, to be happy.Read more...
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Peter and Rebecca Harris: mid-forties denizens of Manhattan's SoHo, nearing the apogee of committed careers in the arts--he a dealer, she an editor. With a spacious loft, a college-age daughter in Boston, and lively friends, they are admirable, enviable contemporary urbanites with every reason, it seems, to be happy. Then Rebecca's much younger look-alike brother, Ethan (known in thefamily as Mizzy, "the mistake"), shows up for a visit. A beautiful, beguiling twenty-three-year-old with a history of drug problems, Mizzy is wayward, at loose ends, looking for direction. And in his presence, Peter finds himself questioning his artists, their work, his career--the entire world he has so carefully constructed.
Like his legendary, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "The Hours," Michael Cunningham's masterly new novel is a heartbreaking look at the way we live now. Full of shocks and aftershocks, it makes us think and feel deeply about the uses and meaning of beauty and the place of love in our lives.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2010-07-19
- Reviewer: Staff
Contemplating an affair that never was, SoHo art dealer Peter Harris laments that he "could see it all too clearly." The same holds true for Cunningham's emotionally static and drearily conventional latest (after Specimen Days). Peter and his wife, Rebecca--who edits a mid-level art magazine--have settled into a comfortable life in Manhattan's art world, but their staid existence is disrupted by the arrival of Rebecca's much younger brother, Ethan--known as Mizzy, short for "The Mistake." Family golden child Mizzy is a recovering drug addict whose current whim has landed him in New York where he wants to pursue a career in "the arts." Watching Mizzy--whose resemblance to a younger Rebecca unnerves Peter--coast through life without responsibilities makes Peter question his own choices and wonder if it's more than Mizzy's freedom that he covets. Cunningham's sentences are, individually, something to behold, but they're unfortunately pressed into the service of a dud story about a well-off New Yorker's existential crisis. (Oct.)
Searching for meaning—in art and life
Middle-aged, mid-level Manhattan art dealer Peter Harris is desperately seeking promise from every facet of his ordinary life. In the trifecta of work, marriage and family, Peter—the central character in Michael Cunningham’s new novel By Nightfall—is unfulfilled and quietly flailing.
Cunningham’s unfiltered, stream-of-consciousness style of writing, which garnered the Pulitzer Prize for his 1988 release The Hours, captures Peter’s internal struggle. Most of the novel’s drama unfolds in Peter’s head. Readers are privy to his most intimate, and often disconcerting, ruminations.
In his career, Peter longs to find the artist: one whose art is beautiful and inspired, yet who will also spur collectors to open their checkbooks. He is on the cusp of signing such an artist, but only due to the misfortune of his good friend and colleague who, due to illness, has to let the artist go.
Peter’s collapsing marriage, however, is the focus of the plot. His wife Rebecca, editor for an arts publication, is attractive, smart and successful. But his feelings for her are waning. When her younger brother Ethan enters the picture, the real breakage begins.
Known as Mizzy, “the mistake,” Ethan is charming but deceitful. A former drug addict, he comes to crash at Peter and Rebecca’s apartment while attempting to gain some direction in his life. When he tells Peter that a career in the arts could interest him, Peter warily agrees to mentor him. But then Peter learns a secret about Mizzy—and fails to share the news with Rebecca—thus instantly complicating matters and bonding the men to one another.
With strong feelings and physical attraction surfacing for Mizzy, and Mizzy seemingly reciprocating Peter’s affection, Peter is forced to examine the parameters of love and lust. By Nightfall is the deeply felt story of the conflicted Peter, who ultimately discovers what he is willing to sacrifice for happiness.