BOOK CLUB – By Nightfall, by Michael Cunningham

By Nightfall, by Michael Cunningham

Welcome to BOOK CLUB, a joint venture between me and Jen from Devourer of Books.  Today we are discussing about By Nightfall, by Michael Cunningham which was published by Picador Books.

By Nightfall is told from the point of view of Peter Harris, a middle-aged gallery owner struggling with ennui in his career and relationships, and beginning to question his sexual identity when his wife’s  beautiful (very), young, and possibly drug addicted brother comes to live with them.

Participant Reviews – 3R’s Blog –  CaribousmomDevourer of Books – Linus’s BlanketLiterate Housewife – That’s What She Read – Beachreader

If you plan on participating in today’s BOOK CLUB, please consider subscribing to comments at the bottom of the page.  I will be updating this post with new questions and ideas over the course of the day.

So…to start:

  • What were your general impressions of the book?
  • Is this a book you would have read had you not been reading it for a book club?
  • Did you find the title to be an appropriate one for the novel? Did it shape your experience and thoughts while reading? And if so, how?
  • Sex and sexual identity play a pivotal role in the novel. What does it mean in each character’s relationships and how does it influence their interactions? Are their differences in how sexuality is expressed as the characters age?
  • What surprised you most about reading By Nightfall? Is there a person in the book you would most like to meet? What would you want to discuss with them?
  • What would you identify as some of the main themes in this novel, and what was your take on the way they were presented? Did you find there were any messages the author was trying to convey?
  • Peter is as much in love with Rebecca as he is with her upbringing and family. What’s the appeal for him and how has this changed over the years?
  • What kinds of questions did you have during your reading? Were they answered?
  • What questions did you have for the group?

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB Picking Bones From Ash, by Marie Mutsuki Mockett

12 review copies of By Nightfall were provided by Picador Books in order to facilitate this discussion.  Thank you so much!

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    1. I know, I had linked to you, but on the review! Technically it’s a good book and it probably accomplished what he wanted, but I just didn’t like it. lol

      1. I didn’t write a review; but these are the two comments I posted in another discussion thread that give my general impressions:

        “Right now, I’m reading By Nightfall (by Michael Cunningham) – So far, it seems to be about a middle-aged white man in SoHo NYC who seems to have a lot of inner angst about maybe being gay and; is definitely insecure around women. I wonder if Michael Cunningham knows Ian McEwan? Why? I dunno, maybe they both talk about taking themselves too seriously (cf Saturday by Ian McEwan) :-/”

        “It’s very much a lit-fic novel: an exploration of character more than an action-driven plot. As I mentioned before, it’s very much about the interior conflict of a white, upper-middle class guy in NYC who questions his sexuality when his brother-in-law arrives for a stay in his home. This precipitates something of a mid-life crises which, really, when all is said and done, really isn’t that interesting. Maybe there are guys who think this is pretty dramatic stuff; but um, no.”

        There was a part of me that wanted to draw parallels to Madame Bovary (in the eponymous novel by Gustave Flaubert). For a while I was ruminating on the idea of the feminine identity and “restlessness;” but then I then I realized that this restlessness wasn’t really connected to gender identity and maybe not even to age (ref “mid-life crises”.)

        I think I was a little disappointed because I really wanted an dramatic ending. I wanted something on a near operatic scale, perhaps Peter weeping on Rebecca’s lap. I know, very corny; but the ending as it stands left me indifferent. Peter, and by extension, Michal CUnningham, failed to impress me with any sort of insight or empathy.

        1. I wanted a Peter/Ethan hook-up just so something exciting would happen! Or I wanted Rebecca to really leave of her own accord. They were just miserable throughout the book and then decided to continue on in their misery. If that is what Cunningham wanted to communicate, then he was successful.

  1. I just posed my review today. if it doesn’t show up in the CommentLuv widget below this comment, here’s the link:

    This was one of the best books I read this year. I thought the writing was beautiful, it engaged me emotionally, and while I agree that some of the plot was predictable, I didn’t see the ending coming. And I think part of the reason I didn’t was because Peter was the most fully-developed character. On the one hand, that could be viewed as the author’s choice to withhold from the readers, but on the other, that IS the author’s choice – to tell the story he means to tell, as he means to tell it.

    However, I have to admit I’m not sure I get how the title relates to the novel – if I missed something, hopefully one of the other participants can enlighten me!

    (I’m weighing in early because I’m on jury duty today and may not get to check in very much today.)

    1. I thought it was well written, but I also thought that it was trying to hard to be smart, and I couldn’t find the sympathy for Peter that you did. He simultaneously annoyed, depressed and bored me. After awhile I really resented reading all of his endless ruminations on everything. I’m curious, what did you think would happen at the end? To be honest, I wanted him to run off with Mizzy just so something interesting woud happen.

      1. LOL, I wanted Peter weeping into Rebecca’s lap, Verdi playing loudly on the loft stereo system and Rebecca absently played with Peter’s air while looking off, contemplating her own non-Peter related thoughts. I wanted drama, and all of it to be clearly in Peter’s head as really, it’s been all along in the novel. As an example of what I mean about the drama being all in Peter’s head, the idea that the kiss was Mizzy’s seduction to keep Peter quiet about the drug use was ridiculously paranoid. I think “my ending” would have underscored the drama of Peter’s ego 🙂

      1. But it was Peter’s world. The other characters just lived in it.

        But seriously, from his perspective, how do you think she felt about him and what would have been her take on the relationship? I think I felt like he thought she didn’t like him anymore, and was always expecting one of his comments to be the last straw. But I also got the sense that she had the advantage in the relationship, since he seems to have married her for as much for the family that he envied. I wonder what she thought she was getting out of the bargain. I guess it was just hard to see anything like love coming from either of them.

        1. My impression that they were in a bit of empty nest malaise, they weren’t sure exactly what their life looked like at this point, I didn’t think she thought things were bad enough that she would want to leave. But Peter’s perspective was so limiting it is hard to really know.

          1. True. It was hard to tell with him and he was a bit on the paranoid side. Or maybe not, since she did actually decide to leave. It seems that she was reading him right.

    2. There were two phrases in the book that frustratingly eluded me as to their meaning: One was the title, “By Nightfall.” One could argue that it referred to Peter’s mid-life crises (decisions made before it’s “too late”) or; perhaps there is a metaphorical reference to his insomnia and sleeping patterns in the book… The other phrase was “Banging on a tub to make a bear dance when we would move the stars to pity.” Perhaps this is an allusion to Peter’s restlessness. In both cases, I kept working hard to make the connections; but I just couldn’t make them work.

      1. It seems that the bear thing is a quote from Madame Bovary (which works with the parallels you were trying to draw), although I totally don’t remember that at all, either Lydia Davis translated it differently or I skipped it because I think it is a stupid sentence. I think it would have behooved Cunningham to make that a little more clear, personally.

      2. I have no idea what the second means. A lot of the literary references seemed contrived to me and after awhile I think my brain stopped thinking about them. One of my problems with Peter was that he was all tangents, and hardly anything concrete.

    3. I found Peter extremely tiresome as the novel wore on…and I didn’t believe his inner turmoil about his sexuality. I wish Cunningham had developed Rebecca more – but because this was such a limited point of view, we could only see Rebecca through Peter’s eyes and I don’t think he truly understood who his wife was or what made her tick…so how could we?

      I agree that the writing is very, very good – Cunningham can spin a sentence!

      1. Just based on the writing, I think a lot of what readers feel is what Cunningham intended. He could have written him in a way that engendered more compassion, but chose not to. I think he wanted us in the head of a questioning, middle-aged neurotic. Access to thoughts other than Peter’s would have made this a different experience.

        I don’t know that I full bought his sudden rumination on sexuality either. I think it’s fascinating for him to explore because he’s bored.

        1. I agree, Nicole – it was an intentional choice on the part of the author to put us solely inside Peter’s head. I think that kind of thing can go either way in terms of reader appreciation – if we love the character, it works great…but if we dislike the character (or find him annoying or can’t relate to his conflict) it can taint the novel. In this case, it tainted the novel for me!!

          1. I know! It would have worked more for me had Peter been in a more interesting situation. I can’t forgive boredom, and his mid-life crisis was pretty ho-hum. I was a little more interested in his relationship with his daughter and her extreme reaction and Rebecca’s non-response, but unfortunately that wasn’t explored enough for me to even begin to understand what was going on there.

            1. Yes! I was more curious about his problems with his daughter. In the end, I wasn’t even sure why she was included in the novel because her situation was left dangling (in fact, we had no idea really what the problem with her WAS). I think, in part, my dislike of Peter was that I just could not empathize with his situation. So many people would die to have his life, and yet he didn’t seem to appreciate anything about where he was…he just wanted MORE. I wanted to tell him to “Get over it already!”

  2. I think there are a lot of interesting, discussion-worthy things in this book, and I think it cries out for a book club to discuss it. I would likely have picked the book up if not for BOOK CLUB, but I have my doubts that I would have finished it. I liked the writing, but I wasn’t able to connect with Peter, which was difficult since there were no other real possible points of connection among the other characters.

    Like Florinda, I’m not sure I totally get the title, I have some nebulous ideas about it, but nothing that has shaped into anything coherent.

    I don’t think that Peter’s desire for Mizzie had anything to do with him being gay, personally (although it is certainly possible he is bisexual). I think part of it was a desire for connection with his long-dead brother, and his brother’s sexual identity is almost exclusively how Peter characterizes him by this point. The other aspect is the fact that Peter seemed to love the idea of Rebecca and her family more than he actually loved her. Mizzie now represents the girl that Peter always wanted Rebecca to be much better than the woman she has become does.

    I think this is one of these books that I can know is technically pretty good, but really just not particularly care for personally.

    1. I agree with you about finishing the book. There was no way I would have finished it, if not for this. If you’re not into it, I think it benefits from having a reason to push through. It is well-written and I think a lot of what Cunningham did was purposeful in terms of what he wanted from Peter and, I guess, the angst he wanted to communicate.

      Your last sentence sums my feelings completely.

  3. It’s always funny for me to answer the question about whether I would have picked the book had it not been for BOOK CLUB, because Jen and I always pick the book for BOOK CLUB, so it’s usually something that either of us would read and we both though that this would be a good choice. I still think it’s a good book club pick, if only if people seem to be split in their reactions to it.

    I was intrigued by the title because for me it lent the air of a decision that was looming and had to be made with respect to Peter and Rebecca’s marriage. As much as he want to distract with language , it’s clear that he often thinks that he is just barely holding on to the relationship while he is avoiding a fight and hedging his bets on what to say. It seems to me that more honesty would have saved both of them sooner, and without involving her brother. The fact that he put all his cards out on the table at the end suggest that the marriage may be saved. But does it need to be?

    1. I wondered about whether their marriage should be saved as well. In fact, I was upset that we weren’t there for the aftermath of his revelation. I think there would have been more drama in that scene than any of the others in the book.

      You’re absolutely right about the honesty aspect. They both needed to get out of their heads and into their lives. Whether that marriage would have lasted anyway, I’m not sure. It certainly wouldn’t have been as painful.

      1. It essentially ended where it would have gotten started! Rebecca agreed that they continue and I can see them doing just that, but in my ending she changes her mind and leaves. Just let it go already. I’m not sure that Peter is capable of doing anything other than what he had done through the entire book anyway. Telling her the answers that he wants to hear, and avoiding conflict. At the end he seems to be able to act differently because he SO does not want her to leave.

  4. I think this book has a lot for us to discuss! I’ll start by answering the questions – then go back and start responding to what people have already posted…
    1. What were your general impressions of the book?
    I was prepared to love this one because I loved The Hours which was written by this author. But I ended up with very mixed feelings. My general impressions: the writing is great, the characters are mostly unlikable, the plot was improbable.

    2. Is this a book you would have read had you not been reading it for a book club?
    Yes, it was on my radar – in fact, I had already requested it for review and then saw that BOOK CLUB would be reading it.

    3. Did you find the title to be an appropriate one for the novel? Did it shape your experience and thoughts while reading? And if so, how?
    This is something I would like to get other readers’ impressions about. I wasn’t so sure the title told us much – in fact, normally, titles assert themselves for me, and in this case it did not.

    4. Sex and sexual identity play a pivotal role in the novel. What does it mean in each character’s relationships and how does it influence their interactions? Are their differences in how sexuality is expressed as the characters age?
    Perhaps because I am heterosexual and in my 50s, I most related to the changes in Peter and Rebecca’s relationship…and I think on some levels, Cunningham got that right – passion that has waned a bit in the marriage, and yet they still enjoy sex with each other, that kind of thing. I found Peter suddenly veering towards being sexually attracted to a man a bit improbable. I think the author tried to spin that a little by showing us that Peter saw Mizzy as a young version of Rebecca – but the whole thing really did not work for me. I kept thinking “No, people don’t just become gay because they are aging.” Instead, I felt like Peter was just grasping at trying to find some excitement in his life – he was going through a mid-life crisis (which for me always is just an excuse for people to do crappy things and betray each other).

    5. What surprised you most about reading By Nightfall? Is there a person in the book you would most like to meet? What would you want to discuss with them?
    I don’t want to know any of these people! They were all so superficial and self-absorbed (even the daughter who we barely know). The only thing that surprised me about the book was the ending when Peter decides to make a go of his marriage and tell Rebecca everything.

    6. What would you identify as some of the main themes in this novel, and what was your take on the way they were presented? Did you find there were any messages the author was trying to convey?
    Cunningham is looking at and exploring urban professional life, modern marriage, and sexual identity. It made me glad I am not an aging urban professional! I have always turned away from “ladder climbing” in my work, and for me, this novel highlighted all the reasons why. I don’t think that I was able to much relate to the sexual identity part of the book because I did not buy into the presentation (or assumption) that we can just change who we are sexually. Just because Peter’s brother was gay, did not make him more likely to shift his identity in that direction. I don’t think heterosexual men would be so easily drawn into a relationship with another man. But, who knows, maybe I am completely out of touch! I thought this was a bit of a sad commentary on modern marriage.

    7. Peter is as much in love with Rebecca as he is with her upbringing and family. What’s the appeal for him and how has this changed over the years?
    Well, Peter is a pretty superficial person in many ways. He likes the wealth, the prestige, the importance of Rebecca’s family – how they all seem so effortless and charmed. I’m not sure that changed at all as he aged – except made him more want to be like them.

      1. Although the sexual element is there – he notices Mizzy’s butt, enjoys seeing him naked, kisses him back, fantasizes about living with him in Greece…I just don’t think most men who are heterosexual would do that. I wondered if maybe he had always been gay – but Cunningham makes a point of showing how “in love” he was with Joanna and how much he loves the sex with his wife…so no, I don’t think we can make that argument. Yes, Mizzy represents beauty, youth, etc…and I can see Peter being drawn to that – but the sexual overtones just did not ring true for me there.

        1. I really attribute Peter’s sexual interest in Mizzy to his personal crisis. Had he bee fulfilled at home and at work, I don’t think he would have looked the other way. I also don’t think Mizzy’s gender was as important as his proximity.

          1. I definitely agree. It seemed to me that the personal crisis that Peter was going through, as well as the constant search for beauty, genius, that indescribable thing he was always searching for — that’s what really attracted him to Mizzy. I think it was less about sexuality, and more about his proximity and what he represented to Peter. Mizzy was the embodiment of the beauty, the youthfulness, and sort of carefree way of being that Peter was searching for in his life and in art.

  5. I do work for the publisher but I still like to discuss our books 🙂

    I agree with Nicole and others who were depressed by the midlife crisis aspect — especially since Peter’s life is, frankly, fabulous. But I still felt like I identified/sympathized with him. He is a man with an artistic sensibility, whose entire life has been spent in the pursuit of beauty. But always through others — he helps find art for people just want something trendy and have no passion for it, and he curates art made by others. He himself produces nothing. When he was a young man, it was enough, because he himself was beautiful and his wife and his life was beautiful. BEING beautiful (and young) is LIKE being an artist, because you are a living work of art to others — this is a message I read into it.

    So now Peter feels empty because he is a vessel, a father, a husband, a curator, and an observer. He misses being an Object of beauty/love/art — and Mizzy makes him feel that way again. I found a lot of poignancy in this as I am a big art lover, reader, etc. but not myself an artist. Can one find fulfillment in simply being a life-long “appreciator”? I do wonder!

    1. And we’re happy to have you join us!

      That is an interesting question you raise, as to being an ‘appreciator.’ I think casual readers are always happy just being readers, but I wonder if those of us who read voraciously can be happy with that. Perhaps that is why we are compelled to insert ourselves into the conversation by starting blogs, BOOK CLUBs, podcasts, etc. Will that continue to be ‘enough’ for us? I’m not sure. Actually, based on the rate that Nicole and I add new projects to our plates, I’m thinking the answer might just be ‘no.’

      1. So true — and since it seems that everyone I know working in publishing is working on their novel, and so many others self-publishing — everyone wants to “create”!

    2. That is a really interesting take on the book, Heather – and I think you are right that this is what is driving Peter in the book – a search for beauty within himself which he equates to love.

      I found, however, that Cunninghams brings in SO much in this book it started to become a jumbled mess to me – there is Peter’s relationship with his daughter which is definitely not good, there is his crumbling marriage, there is his dead brother (and his brother’s gayness and then his dead brother’s dead boyfriend), there is Joanna (his crush from high school), and then Mizzy who represents a little bronze statue of beauty. I started feeling as confused as Peter with all the different threads – any one of which could have been THE important piece.

      1. Yes, he definitely is trying to synthesize all the themes of his entire life — unsuccessfully — as an art historian or academic might analyze an artist’s oeuvre. When does it stop? When does it become simply a matter of his own life choices? He’s definitely feeling guilty, which brings out all kinds of rationalizations (which can be frustrating to observe in a character who’s obviously going down a wrong path). But I think there’s maybe something realistic in the “jumbled mess” aspect, as you aptly put it…

    3. “So now Peter feels empty because he is a vessel, a father, a husband, a curator, and an observer. He misses being an Object of beauty/love/art — and Mizzy makes him feel that way again.”

      This is what I love about book clubs. They open your eyes to things you didn’t see or didn’t fully appreciate. I can’t say that this would have warmed me up a great deal to the book, but it might make me curious enough to re-read it someday to take a deeper dive into that mindset.

    4. I think the question about being an appreciator is a great one. I too am a huge lover of art, a big reader, etc. but am not an artist in any way. I think I find myself going through stages, where sometimes I can step back and appreciate the art that is in front of me, or the books I read, or the photos I see, etc., where other times I feel so inspired and moved that I want to be a part of it, in the thick of things, creating and doing in my own way. And I think I can relate to some of how Peter feels in his personal crisis when I’m in those moments in my own life — the desire is to be Something, with a capital S, or to do Something. To not be ordinary.

  6. Good afternoon, all,

    File me under the “like” column.

    While By Nightfall is more conventional and less of an emotional thriller than his more masterly works (The Hours, A Home at the End of the World), I was increasingly fascinated by Peter’s fascination with Mizzy & his world cracking open. Peter’s obsessive need for beauty as the maw of mortality opens wider before him — a transcendence (via art, flesh, & flesh as art) that would destroy & resurrect him — was also convincing, if precious.

    I’m a sucker for style as a way of seeing, & the third-person stream-of-consciousnesses soars in places with keen & aesthetic observation, gorgeously rendered. That helped enliven an otherwise the thin plot albeit bulked up by the erotics of memory.

    I was devastated by the ending. There’s a sad, all-too-human symmetry in both Peter & Rebecca, unbeknownst to each other, seeking salvation by saving Mizzy with ego-driven love. And failing, of course. And being used. And failing to see that until they’re damned by foolishness.

    Still, during Rebecca’s revelation, I thought, “You go, girl! Go head on!” especially as ever-observant Peter realizes how little he’s realized about her & others. Telling her everything in the final line felt double-edged: the confession to set him free & retaliatory news: “I’m a broken vessel, too, and the reason I cracked will make you more unhappy.”

    On the other hand: “They have tried and failed and tried and failed and there’s probably, in the final analysis, nothing left for them to do but try again.” Peter abandoning his current existence for the aesthetic fantasia of a life with Mizzy would be easy. Picking up the shards of himself & gluing them back to those of Rebecca is hard & bloody. It may not be the most elegant work of art, but that’s the truth of long-term relationships. Their beauty lies in the eye of the beholders.

    Question: By Nightfall is loaded with wink-wink-nudge-nudge literary references. The first page alludes to the opening of Ulysses, the last section to the end of “The Dead.” It seemed necessary to Cunningham to stud the Prize Chickens chapter with references to “The Great Gatsby.” There’s also “Moby Dick,” “Anna Karenina,” and — in the chorus of “Banging on a tub to make a bear dance…” — “Madame Bovary.”

    Did all these self-conscious gestures to masterpieces beef up the story for anyone? I wanted, at first, to like them & to have noted that, in Peter’s world and ours, our lives go forth amid narratives more enduring than we are. By the end, not all but certainly most felt forced, as if an undertow of literary significance were needed to keep this work afloat. Thoughts?

    1. I liked the literary references early on, but there was one chapter near the end that was basically comprised exclusively of literary references, and it felt far too much like trying to ride the coattails of great works. It also simply didn’t flow very well.

    2. I noticed them – didn’t think it beefed up the story. Sometimes it felt a bit forced – but that is probably because it was coming from Peter’s head and his voice began to grate on me by mid-book.

    3. “Peter abandoning his current existence for the aesthetic fantasia of a life with Mizzy would be easy. Picking up the shards of himself & gluing them back to those of Rebecca is hard & bloody. It may not be the most elegant work of art, but that’s the truth of long-term relationships.”

      — fantastically put

  7. By Nightfall was a well written book that never once made it from my brain to my heart. It was a slow read and in places I was downright bored. I think this novel would have worked better for me if Peter didn’t take himself so very seriously.

    I don’t think I would have finished it had it not been from Book Club, but I certainly would have picked it up at some point. Michael Cunningham has been on my radar for a while now.

    When I finished the book, I wondered a lot about the title. I wasn’t convinced it fit the novel and I’m curious to read what other people think. Certainly a lot of things do happen during the night, but…

    I definitely think that this book showed how much sexual identity changes as one ages. As evidenced by Mizzy, Rebecca’s older sister and Peter’s brother Matthew, sex was something that was done on a whim and thrown about. It wasn’t something that necessarily had to identify you. The most interesting part of this novel for me was how Peter’s sexuality began to radically fluctuate as he hit his midlife crisis.

    I’m not sure that anything surprised me about By Nightfall. I was hoping that something would. I think if there was one character I’d like to have met, it would have been Uta. She was the only character who seemed to have a genuine heart, no matter how small. If we had a conversation, I’d probably be more interested in her life outside of this novel.

    If I were cynical, I might say that the author was desperately trying to convince readers that the anxieties of privileged white men as they age are relevant. I don’t really think that was it at all. He had a lot to say about family and sexuality. Both simply aren’t what you initially set out with.

    I think Peter made a good point about how you marry your spouse’s family when you get married. It’s not as simple as marrying your spouse alone. I think he loved the family’s spark and “foreignness” from his own. I think he found that it’s easier to admire something to which you weren’t intimately attached. I don’t think he would have changed anything, though. Rebecca’s family’s wackiness made him feel stable and, in some ways, superior.

    The only substantial questions I had while reading this book are a) would Peter have sex with Mizzy (answered) and b) what was the exact nature of his relationship with his daughter and would it be resolved (murky explanation and it didn’t look good by the end).

    For my fellow Book Club participants: I am lukewarm about this novel. Is there anything you think could have been changed about this novel to give it that spark to make it hard to put down?

  8. If I have to say whether I liked it or not, I am leaning towards the not-liking section. It wasn’t horrible. I just couldn’t get behind Peter’s angst. I couldn’t relate to his inner turmoil, and I just wanted him to make a blasted decision.

    No, I probably would not have read this had it not been for the book club. I’m not upset that I did read it, but there are so many others that would have caught my eye first.

    I may be dense here but I completely missed the significance of the title. I never was all that great at finding the symbolism in novels.

    The use of sex and sexual identity is where the novel gets interesting for me. Even today, I feel the idea of sex remains that taboo subject about which people tend to obsess internally but never dare to admit it to anyone else. In this, I feel Cunningham got it just right. Some are obviously more comfortable exploiting their sexuality than others (Mizzy versus Peter), yet it is a factor in every human relationship. It was interesting to see Cunningham draw those interwoven lines between characters. Sex is not as black and white as Freud would have you think.

  9. Hey everyone — Sorry I wasn’t able to stop by the conversation earlier, some personal stuff came up this morning and the day has been crazy ever since. I’m finally home and things are calming down, so I’m going to get my thoughts together on the book, read over all the posts, and be back in a bit. But I just wanted to check in for now. 🙂

  10. Oh no! I had this huge long response typed up and I clicked “Submit Comment” and got an error message that the site wasn’t able to connect to the database or something like that, and now my comment got eaten and disappeared! 🙁 Crap. I’ll have to come back in the morning and re-do it, it’s getting late now.

  11. Actually, if I go to sleep, I might forget some of it, so let’s see what I can recreate while I’m still awake.

    I enjoyed By Nightfall. I had planned to read it at some point, and I think I was just in the right mood for it so it went over well. It’s definitely the type of book I’d have to be in the right mood for. I think that, at first, much of the novel comes across as the whining of a privileged middle-aged white guy, but I think that the sorts of things that Peter is experiencing in his emotions are something I could really relate to. Obviously I’m not a privileged middle-aged white guy, but I think his feelings, abstracted, resonated for me. I think that sexuality and sex, and his relationships with Mizzy and Rebecca and everyone else played sort of a secondary role in the way I understood the book and in what was occurring. To me, what Peter was really experiencing and going through was a conflict with himself over the lack of beauty, genius, and greatness in his life. Peter wants Life with a capital L, he wants beauty, genius, Something Big. What he has is something ordinary, normal, no longer extraordinary. His relationship with Rebecca has lulled into that ordinary, comfortable stage. Mizzy, however, represents the beauty, youthfulness, and Something Special that he seeks, and I think that it’s those qualities that most attracts him to Mizzy, not anything particular about his sexuality. It’s the same reason he was once attracted to Rebecca, and ultimately fell in love with her family — there was something romantic and beautiful in her and in them that pulled him in. I think the sexuality issues are almost a symptom of what the greater underlying issues are. And while I may not be having a midlife crisis, I feel like I can often relate to what he seeks and feels he is missing — Life with a capital L, something more than what he has currently in front of him.

    The writing, I thought, was wonderful. I’m not typically a fan of stream of consciousness but I thought it was well done in this case. I actually thought it worked better that we didn’t know what was going on in the other characters’ heads because it wasn’t really about them; it was about Peter and his perceptions and views of the world. I also think it made the ending more unexpected; I definitely didn’t see it coming, but I thought it was a good way to end it. I liked the uncertainty that is left up in the air. I found myself reading several lines out loud to my boyfriend, either because they were witty and delightfully sardonic, or just beautifully written. I will admit though, I’m still not sure I get the meaning behind the title.

    1. I agree, Jessica – Peter wants the Life with a capital “L”…and he is definitely into appearance and beauty (even down to thinking about what he looks like all the time). Cunningham makes the connection with youth with Mizzy – he looks like a young Rebecca and his presence in the home makes Peter start remembering his young years with his brother and Joanna. For me, I just found it a little bit of a stretch that the pining for youth and beauty would somehow equate to an “affair” of sorts with Mizzy – unless, what Cunningham was saying was that Peter had ALWAYS been unsure of his sexuality and now as he hit his mid-life crisis, he was exploring it more.

      Like you, I found the writing to be really great (in fact, I give Cunningham five stars for quality of writing!). I think it is a rare author who can pull off a novel length work of what amounts to stream of consciousness!

      1. Hmmm. I do wonder about the sexuality issue. I wonder how different the story might have been if Mizzy had been Rebecca’s sister instead of her brother… (besides the fact that there wouldn’t be the concern about being gay or not).

        1. Maybe Cunningham thought it would be too trite to have Peter drifting toward an affair with a young girl (I mean, come on, that has been done SO much, hasn’t it?)…so he gave us a twist on a traditional mid-life crisis. I don’t really care if a character is gay or not…it was just that Peter’s change in sexuality (if that was what it was) seemed out of character. There did not seem to be any time in his life he considered being with a man (and he makes a point of showing us that his brother got it wrong when he thought Peter was coming on to him)…and that was what I couldn’t buy into…this sudden shift as though every man considers another man at some point and this would be considered typical. I have also thought that being gay was not born from circumstance, but was more genetically related…it is one reason I am so supportive of gay rights. We are who we are. So this was an interesting look at sexual identity – that someone might choose to “switch sides” so to speak because of boredom with their life.

          1. I think you’re right Wendy, it would have seemed trite, overdone, and oh-so-stereotypical if he’d been lusting after a younger woman. I think the confusion over sexuality makes for a far more interesting extra layer to his personal crisis.