Friday, February 25, 2011

By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham


Awfully well-written AWFUL new novel (at least it was a quickie) by Michael Cunningham. The main character, Peter, a mildly successful Soho art dealer, has an inner voice that dominates the narration and is the kind of inner voice that one would like to punch in the face. His excruciating self-absorption and self-analysis drain all the life out of the book early. I guess people like Peter exist: I just don't want to know about them.

Enjoyed the observations on NYC and contemporary art, and even on aesthetics generally – but it failed on a flesh and blood level for me. Felt like it wanted to be a much longer book about Rebecca’s family: instead, much of her family got anecdotized (word?).

Peter and his wife Rebecca play host to Rebecca's much younger brother Mizzie (real name Ethan, but called The Mistake by Rebecca's family, since he's about 17 years younger than Rebecca), an aimless drifting twenty-something who has been messed up in drugs and now "wants to do something in the arts." The plot, what there is of it, revolves around Peter's obsession with Mizzie and failed attempt to seduce him.

Cunningham writes gorgeously about New York City, about the contemporary art scene, but fails, it seems to me, to write about Peter's previously heterosexual life with much conviction.
And for me it was just so gay from the get-go, I didn’t buy Peter as formerly straight, even partially straight. He was loathsome, I had not a spark of sympathy. There is an echo of Murdoch – certainly it shares her serious intentions – but it lacks her mordancy, her black-eyed morality, her treacherous plotting, and so some of her humor.

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