Florinda's Reviews > By Nightfall

By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham
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Mar 01, 12

Read in October, 2011

I haven'�t read all that much of Michael Cunningham�'s work. I liked The Hours well enough, but it hinged on a gimmick, and I might have appreciated it more if I�d ever read Mrs. Dalloway (I still haven�t, and it�s not on the horizon. Judge me if you must). Cunningham�'s most recent novel, By Nightfall, stands on its own.

Peter and Rebecca Harris are in that early-midlife phase that can call a lot into question for people; the kids are leaving home, the career may be comfortable but stalled, and you�ve done well enough that there doesn�t seem much to want from life beyond what you already have. They are, as the plot synopsis says, �happy enough,� particularly when they don'�t dwell on it too much. However, there are bumps in their road, and Rebecca�'s little brother Ethan becomes a big one.

By Nightfall hinges on aimless, beautiful Ethan, known as �Mizzy,� or �The Mistake,� within his family because he was born late and unexpectedly as his sisters were entering adulthood (he�'s only a few years older than Peter and Rebecca�'s daughter, Bea). His visit with Peter and Rebecca is prompted by his recent decision that he wants to �do something in art;� it'�s his latest whim in a life seemingly propelled by whims, and Rebecca hopes that her art-dealer husband can be of some help to her brother in determining what that actually might be.

I don�'t want to discuss much more of the plot of By Nightfall; it'�s not strongly plot-driven, but the storyline took some turns that I didn'�t expect, and I don�'t want spoil the discovery for other readers. However, what made this novel compulsively readable for me was Cunningham�'s writing - beautifully flowing, evocative and emotionally affecting. Particularly effective was his choice to narrate in third person limited. The only perspective the reader gets is Peter�'s, and first-person narration might have made him come across as self-involved and self-indulgent; and while the third-person viewpoint doesn'�t entirely avoid that at times, I felt it rendered him much more sympathetically, and certain events in the story would have had a different impact on me if I hadn'�t viewed him with that degree of sympathy.

I did not expect By Nightfall to engage and move me as much as it did, and I always appreciate surprises like that.

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