Friday, May 3, 2013

Book Review: By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham

Art, New York, and a Midlife Crisis

Sometimes tolerable living isn't living at all?

Peter Harris has a wife, a reputable art gallery and is having a midlife crisis. He may just not know it. Life is fine and he goes through the motions every day until a catalyst, in the form of his younger brother in law, comes to stay in his home. Mizzy (aka Etha, and a nickname for "Mistake"), is much younger and quite attractive. He becomes a mirror, the reflection of Peter's wife Rebecca in her younger years, as well as an image of recollection of Peter's own youth and spirit. It's a disastrous combination which causes Peter to start questioning his daily existence in all its aspects, especially love and art.

This book was written in a similar style/narrative to Bright Lights Big City and there were a lot of common themes. In many ways, this book could be the same story of that book just fast forwarded twenty years. The 80's become present time. The disillusioned carefree youth (oxymoron I guess) become the jaded middle aged. The drugs and wild clubs become fancy wine and art showings. I also saw glimmers of the Great Gatsby in this book, well before the book actually started to reference Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan.

I really enjoyed this book and while I don't want to acknowledge that I'm definitely entering this demographic of "middle age" I felt I could identify with a lot of this book. What is the definition of beauty and is art for art's sake? I could empathize with Peter and his fragmented relationship with a daughter who is already disillusioned. And finally, all of us look back at your youth and wonder what it would be like to get it back again.


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