Michael Cunningham

Exploring Queer Lives: By Nightfall

By Nightfall novel jacket black tulip facing downThe Hours novel jacket

Michael Cunningham’s  By Nightfall is a gorgeously written novel that reveals the inner life of Peter, an art dealer and gallery owner in his 40’s who finds himself powerfully drawn to his wife’s beautiful, directionless  younger brother.  Michael Cunningham is the prize-winning author of many novels, including The Hours, which he has described as a tribute to Virginia Woolf.  Here a similar stream of consciousness style lets the reader live through Peter’s emotional earthquake and its surprising aftermath. 

Although the central tension comes from a man’s attraction to another man, By Nightfall is not about “being gay”. Gender as a factor of desire is a fascinating aspect of the story, evoking many speculations. It’s a story about a person who contemplates abandoning his life's work and partner for a brief affair with a wild card visitor, one who evokes associations with past passions.  It’s a story about the New York art world, artists and gallery owners, real genius and manufactured artistic product.  It’s a story about the art of life, chaos and craft, manipulation and spontaneity, and the precarious balance between them.  If there is such a thing as “post-gay”, By Nightfall exemplifies it with seamless integration of queerness into the human narrative.