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Home Reviews Book Reviews Life in the Big Apple not as shiny as it seems

Life in the Big Apple not as shiny as it seems

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New York Times bestselling author Michael Cunnigham won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1998 novel, “The Hours,” along with the PEN/Faulkner Award in 1999.


The book was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep and  Julianne Moore, and also garnered an Academy Award for Nicole Kidman. It's one of my favorite books. 
Cunningham's literary pedigree is impressive. According to Wikipedia, He studied English literature at Stanford University where he earned his degree. Later at the University of Iowa he received a Michener Fellowship and was awarded a master’s of fine arts from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. While studying at Iowa, he had short stories published in the Atlantic Monthly and the Paris Review. His story "White Angel," from his novel “A Home at the End of the World,” was included in "The Best American Short Stories, 1989," published by Houghton Mifflin.

In 1993, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship and in 1998 a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. In 1995, he was awarded the Whiting Writers' Award. Cunningham has taught at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Mass., and in the creative writing MFA program at Brooklyn College. He is currently professor of creative writing at Yale University.

I expected more from Cunningham's novel, “By Nightfall.”

Disgruntled SoHo art dealer Peter Harris is startled to find how good his wife of 20 years, Rebecca, looks through the steamy glass in their shower. Imagine Peter's – and the reader's – embarrassment when the body in the shower turns out to be Rebecca's 23-year-old brother, Ethan.

Ethan – also known as Mizzy, for “Mistake,” – crashes at his sister's upscale Manhattan apartment between failed attempts at kicking a nasty heroin habit and trying to decide what to do with his life. His presence stirs up a lot of unresolved issues for Peter, who comes across as a whiny, spoiled, unappreciative man forced into a mid-life crisis at age 44.

Peter and Rebecca's daughter, Bea, has turned her back on her priviledged upbringing and waits tables in Boston. Peter feels he's failed Bea because she's not living up to her potential. He's struggling to attract new customers and artists at his gallery. He's not happy in his long  marriage. And he's attracted to his feckless brother-in-law.

For the entire story, Cunningham stays inside Peter's head and, unlike the interior lives of his characters in “The Hours,” it's not time well spent. By page 50, I realized I really didn't like Peter Harris. What I wanted to do was shake him and say, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Grow up and appreciate what you have.”

I've never lived in New York City. What I know about life there is strictly learned from brief visits, Woody Allen movies, “When Harry Met Sally” and “Sex and the City.” But, if the people in the Big Apple really think and act like Peter Harris, I'm content to just be an occasional tourist.




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