Charity (CJ)'s Reviews > By Nightfall

By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham
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Dec 18, 10

Recommended to Charity (CJ) by: Lauren
Read from December 12 to 17, 2010

I liked this book but didn't love it. There's a certain style that some writers have when they write about New York City. It is, perhaps, their style even when they're not writing about New York. I wouldn't know since I only read one thing in that style then avoid the author afterwards. The word "sardonic" comes to mind, but that's not quite it. It's kind of an undercurrent of, "I know the different neighborhoods, I know the art, I know the fashion, so you know I'm cooler and more clever than you." I got the same thing from Don DeLillo and the one Norman Mailer book I attempted to read (although that one wasn't set in New York, it had a similar style).

I agree with my friend Lauren that Cunningham's descriptions of people are largely satisfying, but he relies a lot on dropping the name of the designer of the person's boots or scarf or whatever to illustrate something about the person's character. On the one hand, I think this says something about the shallowness and appearance-consciousness of the main character. On the other, as someone who recognized only Prada and Tony Lama among the dozens of designer/brand names in the book, I think I missed some of what he was trying to say about his characters. He does a similar thing with references to artists and works of art. I don't even know if the artists he mentions are real or fictional. I'm guessing it's a combination of the two, but I couldn't tell you which were which.

Reading a book like this is kind of like sitting at a dinner party filled with people who know each other who, rather than inviting me into the conversation, persist in speaking only in private jokes that are meant to impress me but merely confuse and exclude me. I get it, I want to say. You're clever. Now can I just eat my dessert and go home?

By Nightfall wasn't as bad as that for me. I enjoyed the gradual unraveling of the main character and his view of the world. I grew to admire the Carole Potter character, and felt I got a good sense of her and her home, despite the fact that I had to gloss over the drawn-out description of every piece of art in her foyer and living room.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Lauren I'm disappointed to hear you didn't love the book, but I'm glad you read it and posted an honest review! (I always feel so bad posting a negative review of a book a friend recommended, but I do it anyway. So, I appreciate it when others do the same.)

Anyway, I enjoyed your review, especially the way you articulated that undercurrent of "I'm cooler and cleverer than you" because I know this subject intimately in a way you never will. I know exactly what you mean, and in certain writers it does bother me. I suppose I forgive it in certain "New York writers" because the Midwesterner in me imagines that if you live in New York you just can't help but be that way. (And I don't say that in a catty way.) FWIW I didn't feel alienated by Cunningham's style, despite my lack of fashion/art-awareness.

It's intriguing to me that you grew to admire the Carole Potter character. She was mildly interesting to me, but very minor. It's cool that you saw more in her than I did.


Charity (CJ) You're a Midwesterner? Whereabouts from? My parents are both from Canton, Ohio.

And this is totally what I like about sharing books with friends. Everyone gets something different out of a book and sees different things in it, and sharing those perspectives enriches the experience of reading the book (at least it does for me).


Lauren CJ wrote: "You're a Midwesterner? Whereabouts from? My parents are both from Canton, Ohio.

And this is totally what I like about sharing books with friends. Everyone gets something different out of a book an..."


Interesting! Did you grow up in Ohio? Oh... that's right. I remember reading your review of a book set in OH.... by one of the NYer under 40 authors. Can't remember which book; I didn't like it. ;)

I grew up 90 mi west of Chicago in IL.


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