Michael Cunningham: By Nightfall
A good novel should make the reader connect
with the characters and feel part of the story. Unfortunately, Michael Cunningham takes this saying literally. In his 2010 novel
By Nightfall, the scenes are vividly described to the tiniest
details; the problem is what is seen may not be that interesting to the reader.
follows Peter, an art dealer/gallery owner in his mid-forties in Manhattan –
which earns us our share of art references throughout the book. Apart from experiencing normal mid-life
anxiety, Peter is a happily married man with a college dropout daughter, until
his brother-in-law Mizzy comes for a visit.
Then Peter’s chaotic
and confusing world starts to make less sense. Jealous of Mizzy’s carefree life and youthful nonchalance, Peter realizes
that his own life is not as he wishes it to be with all the adult responsibilities
that fall upon him.
Unfortunately, By Nightfall promises more than it can deliver: instead of describing moments of sudden realizations that leave a middle-aged man questioning
every aspect of his life, the novel focuses on the seemingly random
ramblings of a character experiencing a mid-life crisis. Instead of understanding
the characters’ internal struggles through their actions, the novel focuses more on externalising
their thoughts and emotions.
Few but poignant anecdotes and views on
life can be easily missed between the heaps of lingering details,
where the author describes every colour and smell of every neighbourhood that
the character walks through.
Although it’s believable, thought-provoking
and could pass as a true story, By Nightfall fails to grab
readers’ attention from the first pages. Instead, half of the book may easily
pass without a hint of an outlined plot that keeps the anticipation flowing.