Peter and Rebecca Harris, the main characters at the heart of Michael Cunningham’s new novel, By Nightfall (available 9/28), seem to lead a rather charmed life: good looks, flourishing careers in the arts and a big loft in Soho. But—as Cunningham explores in this beautifully written novel —that doesn’t necessarily guarantee contentment.
Peter, an art dealer, finds himself feeling “a small sense of disappointment, a hint of actual defeat” while reflecting on his life at age 44. And that’s before the arrival of Rebecca’s 23-year-old brother, Ethan (nicknamed “Mizzy,” for “mistake”). Mizzy, a dazzlingly handsome former drug addict, reminds Peter (confusingly) of his wife in her youth, and also makes him reconsider his relationship to beauty itself. Cunningham manages to perfectly capture post-9/11 New York City, with keen observations about anxiety, fidelity, aging, the art world and the somewhat impossible pursuit of what we think of as happiness.
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