Peter and Rebecca Harris: mid-40s denizens of Manhattan’s SoHo, nearing the apogee of committed careers in the arts - he a dealer, she an editor. With a spacious loft, a college-age daughter in Boston, and lively friends, they are admirable, enviable contemporary urbanites with every reason, it seems, to be happy. Then Rebecca’s much younger look-alike brother, Ethan (known in the family as Mizzy, “the mistake”), shows up for a visit. A beautiful, beguiling 23-year-old with a history of drug problems, Mizzy is wayward, at loose ends, looking for direction. And in his presence, Peter finds himself questioning his artists, their work, his career - the entire world he has so carefully constructed.
Like his legendary, Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, The Hours, Michael Cunningham’s masterly new novel is a heartbreaking look at the way we live now. Full of shocks and aftershocks, it makes us think and feel deeply about the uses and meaning of beauty and the place of love in our lives.
In By Nightfall, author Michael Cunningham best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Hours tells the story of a few days in the life of Peter Harris, a New York art dealer with a decades-long marriage to Rebecca; an emotionally and geographically distant daughter; and a habit of falling, as he puts it, “in love with beauty”. The novel, performed by English actor Hugh Dancy, is packed with the gorgeous prose and thoughtful details that are classic Cunningham and Dancy’s flawless narration is well-paced, emotional, and genuine.
Rebecca’s brother an “oops” baby named Ethan but known as Mizzy (short for “the Mistake”) is the golden child of the family, despite years of drug abuse and repeated, failed attempts to live up to the standards his family sets for him. And when he comes to stay with Peter and Rebecca, he’s also the catalyst for Peter’s re-examining of his entire life, from his first crush on an older girl to his relationship with his late brother. Cunningham nails every detail the small moments between Rebecca and Peter, the fears and insecurities Peter has about his own past, the tiny domestic routines that make up a life and Dancy hits every note: His narration moves effortlessly from Peter’s stream-of-consciousness internal monologue to interactions with other characters without a trace of his own English accent, and he adds a hint of Southern drawl to Mizzy and Rebecca (who grew up below the Mason-Dixon line). A cast of supporting characters including egocentric artists, rich collectors, and fellow dealers gets the same meticulous treatment. Cunningham and Dancy both worked on the movie Evening (alongside Dancy’s wife, Claire Danes, who reportedly asked Cunningham to officiate the couple’s private wedding ceremony in 2009) and their collaboration here is poignant and powerful. Blythe Copeland
"[A]n exquisite, slyly witty, warmly philosophical, and urbanely eviscerating tale of the mysteries of beauty and desire, art and delusion, age and love." (Booklist)
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Beauty is truth? Is that all we need to know?
Tedious, Self-absorbed, and Pretentious