Thursday, December 30, 2010

Book thirty-five: By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham.

My literary tour of the New York art scene continues with Michael Cunningham's new novel, By Nightfall. This is the story of Peter, a successful gallery owner (although not "Gagosian" successful) in New York and his wife Rebecca.  They've long been content in their marriage although maybe something has been lost.  Things are distrupted when Rebecca's much younger brother Ethan arrives.  Ethan, nicknamed Mizzy (short for "Mistake"), is a recovering drug adict and, in general, trouble; albeit handsome, smart trouble.

Cunningham writes beautifully about the art world.  I loved the scene where Peter and a friend take a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art just after the friend has revealed she has breast cancer and is closing her gallery.  The ensuing scene pits two great works of art against each other.  The first is Rodin's The Bronze Age a stunning, life-sized bronze of a young nude man. And yet this sculpture is something you, "pass on your way to see the Damien Hirst." 

The Hirst in question is The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. A title that makes the work somehow more relevant in a scene featuring a woman dying of cancer.  If you haven't scene the work, it's a 13-foot dead shark suspended in a tank of formaldehyde.  It's worth reading By Nightfall for this scene alone, with it's questions about life and death; questions somehow lost on a young teenage couple falling in love.

That's not all I like about this book.  I like the nod to Thomas Mann's Death in Venice.  And the art work of the young, up-and-coming artist is fascinating. (Maybe I should make my name in art by realizing the fictional works of art imagined in literature.) And the surprises toward the end of the novel were lovely and rewarding.  This book is melancholy, maybe even tragic.  But somehow, it left me happy; enough so that I've already downloaded another Cunningham novel.

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