20 December 2010

Review: By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham

Peter Harris is in the middle. He's a middling New York art dealer in the middle years of his life and marriage. He negotiates the middle path between his wife and daughter and between his artists and clients. Every day he attempts to level the balance.

Things begin to go out of whack when Mizzy, Peter's much younger and very handsome brother-in-law, comes to stay. Mizzy, claiming to be drug-free and ready to work, shows Peter the what ifs and the what could still bes. As the balance seesaws, Peter wrestles with finding a new set point.

Michael Cunningham's By Nightfall takes place mostly inside Peter Harris's head, leaving the art dealer's stream-of-consciousness for moments of conversation. It's no surprise that Peter's thoughts are focused on his family and career. But when Mizzy punctures Peter's protective bubble, letting in memories, desires, hurts, and fears, Peter loses his sense of self.

While Peter copes with newfound (or recently surfaced?) possibilities, we are swept along into the business side of the art world, a twenty-year marriage, and a strained father-daughter relationship. We cringe at Peter's moments of vulnerability and naïveté and root for his career plans.

Although By Nightfall is often emotionally powerful, at other times it leaves us hanging. This is the result of the stream-of-consciousness style--we can know only what Peter knows; there is no anonymous narrator to fill in the blanks. Thus, in the end, as in real life, some story lines remain without conclusion or explanation.

I listened to the audiobook (Macmillan Audio) narrated by Hugh Dancy. Dancy's vocalizations clearly signaled the switches from Peter's personal thoughts to spoken conversation, making this a great audiobook experience. My full audiobook review has been published on the AudioFile magazine website.

By Nightfall was an Indie Next Pick for October 2010. To learn about Michael Cunningham, visit his website. The publisher's website includes a reading guide, audio sample, sample text, and several audio and video interviews with the author.

By Nightfall at Powell's
By Nightfall at Book Depository
For the audio edition, see links in the sidebar
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Published by Macmillan / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010
ISBN-13: 9780374299088
YTD: 110
Source: Review (print & audio) (see review policy)
Rating: B+

Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

18 comments:

JoAnn 12/20/10, 6:34 AM  

I've been wanting to read this one, but hadn't considered listening. Sounds like that may be the way to go. Thanks.

Sandy Nawrot 12/20/10, 6:41 AM  

OK, so you know and I know how crazy I am about audios. So why is it that it has to be suggested for me to even think about the possibility of listening to it on audio? I'm off to see if my lovely library has it. I've heard great things about this book.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea 12/20/10, 6:45 AM  

I liked this one as well. Happy Holidays!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks 12/20/10, 7:41 AM  

You really caught my attention with this review - the audio seems very well done (cool to have your review in AudioFile!)

I don't mind unanswered questions at the end of a book (as long as I don't feel manipulated by being left hanging there)

Rebecca Rasmussen 12/20/10, 8:29 AM  

I have been more and more interested in audios lately. I love that you and a few others review them :)

SuziQoregon 12/20/10, 9:57 AM  

Had to stop by and check out the adjustments - looks great!!

Lynne Perednia 12/20/10, 10:34 AM  

Cunningham's other books have been wonderful reading, especially The Hours. I hope to eventually see what I think of this one as well.

marthalama 12/20/10, 11:29 AM  

I'll have to check this one out. It sounds very interesting.

Andrea 12/20/10, 11:35 AM  

Hi Beth, I pressed Publish too soon LOL. This was an excellent review.I was so curious to see what you thought about the narration, its so tricky with actors, they do not always make good narrators.I will definately add this to my audible wish list. Thanks for sending me a reminder.

Susan 12/20/10, 12:05 PM  

Sounds like an interesting story - and a good one to listen to!

Julie P. 12/20/10, 8:36 PM  

This one has been on my radar! Nice review!

Veens 12/20/10, 8:43 PM  

I had read some good reviews and am glad you like it too. This is on my wishlist!

Aerie-el 12/20/10, 9:21 PM  

Sounds interesting (pun intended).
Looking forward to reading, or perhaps listening, to this one.

bermudaonion 12/21/10, 6:54 PM  

I'm not a big fan of the stream-of-consciousness style, so this may not be for me.

Jenners 12/21/10, 8:37 PM  

It seems like this might work really well on audio ... like you are inside Pete's head!

Melissa 7/16/11, 12:50 AM  

Loved this book. Absolutely loved it. I'm glad to hear the audio worked well - I'm kind of surprised, really, because of the narrative in this one. But, yeah, this is a book that is going to be staying with me for awhile.

Amy 8/23/11, 1:09 PM  

I've been a fan of Cunningham's for a while. This book sounds a little different than what he's written so far but I find the stream of consciousness style intriguing. I know I'll be a little aggravated by some of the incomplete story lines since we only get what Peter decides to share. There are some intriguing themes here and I think it'll be interesting to read/listen as Peter is thrown off his game by Mizzy's arrival and very different take on life. Although reviews are mixed I don't think I want to miss this book!

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