Synopses & Reviews
A New York Times Bestseller
Peter and Rebecca Harris, midforties, are prosperous denizens of Manhattan. Hes an art dealer, shes an editor. They live well. They have their troubles—their ebbing passions, their wayward daughter, and certain doubts about their careers—but they feel as though theyre happy. Happy enough. Until Rebeccas much younger, look-alike brother, Ethan (known in the family as Mizzy, short for the Mistake), comes to visit. And after he arrives, nothing will ever be the same again.
This poetic and compelling masterpiece is a heartbreaking look at a marriage and the way we now live. Full of shocks and aftershocks, By Nightfall is a novel about the uses and meaning of beauty, and the place of love in our lives.
“Cunningham makes you turn the pages.…[He] writes so well, and with such an economy of language, that he can call up the poets exact match.” —Jeanette Winterson, The New York Times Book Review
“Cunningham reigns supreme….For pure, elegant, efficient beauty, [he] is astounding.” —The Washington Post
“There are sentences here so powerfully precise and beautiful that they almost hover above the page.” —Entertainment Weekly
“[Cunninghams] vigorous explorations of art and its meaning—along with a thick veil of eroticism—keep the pages turning.” —People (four stars)
“The novel is less a snapshot of the way we live now than a consideration of the timeless consolations of love and art in the shadow of death, and its resolution—inevitable yet startling, like the slap of a wave—is a triumph.” —The New Yorker “Rather witty and a little outrageous . . . for pure, elegant, efficient beauty, Cunningham is astounding. Hes developed this captivating narrative voice that mingles his own sharp commentary with Peters mock-heroic despair. Half Henry James, half James Joyce, but all Cunningham, its an irresistible performance, cerebral and campy, marked by stabbing moments of self-doubt immediately undercut by theatrical asides and humorous quips. . . a cerebral, quirky reflection on the allure of phantom ideals and even, ultimately, on what a traditional marriage needs to survive.” —Ron Charles, The Washington Post “[Cunningham] makes you turn the pages. He tells a story here, but not too much a story. You arent deadened by detail; youre eager to know what happens next.” —Jeanette Winterson, The New York Times Book Review “Where art and humanity converge and where they part form a double helix in By Nightfall and account for the novels most considered and lovely prose. Cunninghams observations of our desperate search for the real fill and break the heart.” —Ellen Kanner, Miami Herald “So many of Cunninghams physical descriptions read like confident prose poems, where you imagine whats left between the lines . . . As a testament to the richness of the literary imagination, ‘By Nightfall is a success. You cant read this novel without the sense of how worlds can be found in a drop of water, or in an offhand comment, or in the curve of a vase. . . ‘By Nightfall is a meditation on beauty, and it has its own indelible qualities of beauty.” —Matthew Gilbert, Boston Globe “Beauty, in its infinite variety and its power to transfix and seduce and delude, is a central theme of ‘By Nightfall, the latest from the author of the Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel ‘The Hours. Add the mysteries and fears of aging and mortality to the agenda, and you have echoes here of Oscar Wilde and Thomas Mann . . . the attentive reader is rewarded with a wise and exhilarating epiphany at the end.” —Misha Berson, The Seattle Times “Cunningham can really write. And so he transforms a set of predictable elements into an unpredictable and engrossing read. ‘By Nightfall is an exemplar of the crossover megahit that authors of all genders and genres dream of: an entertaining page-turner thats bound for, and deserving of, literary eternity . . . Theres nothing minor about Cunninghams heart, or his talent. ‘By Nightfall deserves every superlative it has summoned.” —Meredith Maran, San Francisco Chronicle “[Cunninghams] vigorous explorations of art and its meaning—along with a thick veil of eroticism—keep the pages turning.” —Eric Liebetrau, People “Cunningham has again pulled off his trick of combining the novel of ideas with the juicy read. The characters in ‘By Nightfall deceive, spy on and gossip about one another; but while all that is going on, ‘Nightfall also studies the concepts of beauty and genius as they are expressed in the contemporary art world . . . The verdict: ‘By Nightfall is a delicious book and will make a fine movie, as did ‘The Hours and ‘A Home at the End of the World. A straight man who suddenly falls for his wife's brother may seem like a stretch for mass appeal—but then didnt Mrs. Dalloway?” —Marion Winik, Newsday “In this rueful, daring and expansive novel, Cunningham gives us deep and thrilling access to the mind and heart of a searching, cynical, self-deprecating-except-when-hes-self-aggrandizing modern male.” —Pam Houston, More “There are sentences here so powerfully precise and beautiful that they almost hover above the page.” —Karen Valby, Entertainment Weekly “Beautifully written. . . Cunningham manages to perfectly capture post-9/11 New York City, with keen observations about anxiety, fidelity, aging, the art world and the somewhat impossible pursuit of what we think of as happiness.” —Very Short List “A ravishing and witty tale of yearning and hubris.” —Donna Seaman, The Kansas City Star “The result is an exquisite, slyly witty, warmly philosophical, and urbanely eviscerating tale of the mysteries of beauty and desire, art and delusion, age and love.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review) “Michael Cunninghams newest novel, ‘By Nightfall, is a slim book that takes on some big issues: the evolving relationship of long-married couples, the often-fraught bond between parents and their adult children, the duty siblings have to one another. But it also enlarges to consider the role that beauty plays in our lives and the necessarily one-sided nature of our relationship with it. ‘By Nightfall is philosophy masquerading as a story.. . . Instead of a novel overflowing with flesh and sweat, rage and craziness, Cunningham has given us a well-considered treatise.” —Nancy Connors, The Plain Dealer
About the Author
novel The Hours
won both the Pulitzer Prize and a PEN/Faulkner Award, and became an Academy Award-winning film, starring Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, and Meryl Streep. An earlier novel, A Home at the End of the World
, was recently made into a film, starring Colin Farrell, Dallas Roberts, Sissy Spacek, and Robin Wright Penn. He lives in New York.
Reading Group Guide
1. What were your first impressions of Peter and Rebecca? What aspects of their marriage were presented in the opening scenes as they observed a traffic accident, attended a party, and went to bed?
2. Ethans nickname originated as a reference to his parents unplanned parenthood so late in life. Did the label shape his impressions of himself, or were his problems inevitable? Did his parents and his sisters, Rosemary, Julianne, and Rebecca, expect too little of him?
3. How did Peters and Rebeccas families influence them well into adulthood? What did Peter and Rebecca offer each other when they were first dating? How did the basis for their attraction change over the years?
4. What is Peters role in the lives of the artists he represents, beyond securing a high price for their work? What intangibles does he sell his buyers? What makes him good at his job?
5. How does the concept of leverage play out in By Nightfall? Who are the novels most vulnerable and most powerful characters?
6. How does Utas philosophy of life different from Peters? How does she balance the reality of her role as a businesswoman with the intuitive and emotional aspects of her profession? For her, is there any distinction between her profession and her passions?
7. What does By Nightfall say about making art, and marketing it? How does Peters work compare to Rebeccas in shaping the futures of creative individuals? What new freedoms and challenges does twenty-first-century American culture bring to creative fields, and to our personal lives?
8. Ultimately, what is Bea blaming her father for? Is she right to blame him? What does he teach her to expect from men? When Rebecca worries about her daughter, what fears is she also expressing about her own future?
9. What purposes does sex serve for the novels primary characters? How did sexuality shape Rebeccas self-esteem before and after she was married? What longings is Peter responding to at the moment of the kiss? For Mizzy, does sex present anything more than an opportunity to be manipulative?
10. How does the purpose of marriage evolve throughout Peter and Rebeccas life together? What reasons do they have for remaining married after Bea has left for college? What identity did marriage create for them in their careers?
11. Michael Cunningham provides us with Peters thoughts throughout By Nightfall. How would the novel have unfolded if it had been told from Rebeccas point of view instead?
12. Is Mizzy a victim or a victimizer, or both? If he were your little brother, would you respond to him the way Rebecca does?
13. The novel concludes with the beginning of an honest dialogue. How much of Peter and Rebeccas previous talks had been truthful? Had they been honest with themselves? What predictions do you have for the closing lines conversation and its aftermath?
14. Discuss the novels title: What symbolic nightfall exists in the characters lives? How does it apply to the concept of aging and other transitions that may seem difficult to navigate in the "dark"?
15. Through his fiction, what has Cunningham shown us about the nature of love and longing? What new facets are revealed in By Nightfall? What role do artists (literary, visual, and otherwise) play in his storylines?