Sunday, June 5, 2011

Marriage Angst: By Nightfall Book Review

By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham is an insightful look at a married couple, Peter and Rebecca Harris. Both are in their forties, have careers (he an art dealer, she an editor), a college age daughter in Boston, and both are questioning their lives.

With the arrival of her much younger brother, Ethan (aka Mizzy), who's been in and out of rehab, seemingly intelligent and yet unmotivated, Peter and Rebecca begin to turn on each other, full of doubts as to their joint goals and love.

Cunningham, author of The Hours, has a smooth spare style. He ingratiates the reader and draws us in to lives and thoughts. We like the characters and at the same time, we question their life choices. He sets his scenes well: p.169 The train from Grand Central Station to Greenwich runs through a morass of exurbia that, let's just say, one would want to conceal from a visiting extraterrestrial.

He evokes emotion: p. 196 Beauty - the beauty Peter craves - is this, then: a human bundle of accidental grace and doom and hope.

Finally, he gives keen observations on life today: p. 234: Isn't it the way? We build palaces so that younger people can break them up, pillage the wine cellars and pee off the tapestry-draped balconies.

Michael Cunningham's sure hand writes an evocative tale of married life. By Nightfall is a bit angsty and yet, I rooted for Peter and Rebecca and the redemption of their marriage.

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