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.
For the audio edition, see links in the sidebar
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Published by Macmillan / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010
Source: Review (print & audio) (see review policy)
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