Sunday, February 5, 2012

By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham

Book #1 for 2012: By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham

Michael Cunningham brings another jewel to the table with his latest book, By Nightfall. The mention of 'Michael Cunningham' and his book in the same line would probably echo some familiar elements represented in his previous books: complexities, homo-eroticism and raw emotions. 

And that's exactly why I always looked forward for his latest instalments.

By Nightfall is a story about a middle-age couple, Peter and Rebecca Harris, who lives in Manhattan. They have a life which normal people would envy: he's an art dealer and she's a magazine editor. Somehow, there's something hollow in their life and the presence of Rebecca's younger brother who's coming over to stay with them, the Yale dropout Mizzy (short for 'Mistake' or his real name Ethan), just cuts open the couple's silent trouble, particularly Peter's boring and banal life.

As the story progresses, the seemingly-contented Peter begins to realize how fast he has aged (he's 43 turning 44 years old) and somewhat begins to regret all the things that he had done or most importantly things he had not done. Mizzy's carefree life and his refusal of responsibility somewhat evoke a tinge of envy and admiration in Peter. Peter misses the time in his life when everything was so easy and he was surrounded by beauty - which is now lacking in his wife - that he begins to be attracted to Mizzy who resembles a younger version of Rebecca.

Peter's contemplation about his life remains throughout the story and gets even more dizzying when he falls for Mizzy - only to be jilted. The final note of this story is when he gets back home to his wife, confesses that she feels the same way as he does and proposes to separate. Will they get divorce to finally be happy? That's for you to find out.

Homo-eroticism aside, By Nightfall does a great job at showing complexities of human's emotion and let's be blunt, it's nothing as straightforward as we would like it to be. Each part of the story telling is accompanied by an avid illustration of what's going on inside the character's mind - particularly Peter's, akin to Virginia Woolf's storytelling. It comes as no surprise since Woolf did have a great influence in Cunningham's writing. 

In my own opinion, the most interesting sense in the book is how vain all of the characters are - like most of us, like it or not. Rebecca simply dotes on her younger brother Mizzy and chooses to think that everything will be just fine, everything will fall into places. In life, it doesn't work that way. That's why when Mizzy rips open the beautiful wrapper of their life, they begin to realize that 'happiness' and 'perfection' that they have all these years are only what they make-believe it to be. What's inside is nothing but fake. 

I'm not a fan of Woolf/Cunningham's meticulous description of everything around every character in the book - I find it tiresome and more often than not, useless to read. However, I adore how he can pick simple everyday issues like this and put it out as raw as it is. I admire his skilled writing - simple, potent plots with a a very economic language and that's just what By Nightfall delivers.

I bought this one (paperback) from Times Pavilion at RM32.90.
Twitter: @kyeberry

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