By Nightfall Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of By Nightfall

By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham tells the story of a high profile New York intellectual couple, Rebecca and Peter who, when visited by Rebecca's strikingly handsome and drug addicted little brother Mizzy, end up having to deal with the secrets that drive a wedge between their marriage.
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In the opening pages, Rebecca, an art magazine critic, and Peter, a gallery owner, are making their way back home from party when on the road they witness a horrific accident involving a horse-drawn carriage. At the party itself, the two confide in each other the fact that they've tired of their social lives; their relationship has also become strained, as is evidenced in their routine and often unenthusiastic sex, which leaves each one of them unsatisfied.

Peter encounters Mizzy for the first time when he comes from work and mistakes him for Rebecca in the shower. Mizzy, a young and beautiful man, is easily misconstrued for a woman. Peter and Mizzy discuss Mizzy's recent trip to Japan after he gets out of the shower, and Mizzy expresses interest in working in the art world.

Mizzy is staying in the bedroom belonging to Peter and Rebecca's daughter, a college student named Beatrice. Beatrice and Rebecca have a tenuous relationship, which is alluded to in a telephone conversation they have. Peter, meanwhile, begins to fret over a reoccurring pain in his stomach, and, after returning to work, must rush out of a meeting with his employees to throw up in the bathroom.

Returning home, Peter begins to contemplate his own relationship with his family, and the way in which it led him to make some of his biggest life decisions. While home, he overhears Mizzy on the phone in the midst of a drug deal. Following that, he listens while Mizzy appears to masturbate and acknowledges that he is turned on in the process. He is almost immediately afterwards filled with self-loathing over the feelings he has. Peter and Mizzy then engage in a series of awkward conversations that dance around their mutual attraction. Mizzy also requests that Peter keep from telling Rebecca about his acquiring drugs, but Peter expresses doubt in being able to withhold the truth.

In order to help reintroduce Mizzy into the professional world, Peter takes him with him on a trip to visit one of his clients, an eccentric and wealthy art buyer named Carole. On that day, after Peter and Mizzy explore the property, they kiss. Mizzy soon after expresses that he's been attracted to Peter for quite a while. Peter reciprocates the feeling, and is thrown into a state of shame, desire, and doubt. The two agree to pretend that nothing ever happened between them, and attempt to go about their lives.

In the final pages, Mizzy moves out into a friend's apartment in Williamsburg, and tacitly bribes Peter, telling him that if he alerts Rebecca to the fact that he was doing drugs, then he will tell her about their affair. At the very end of the book, however, without any follow-up, Peter decides to tell Rebecca about everything, including his attraction towards her brother.
Best part of story, including ending: I love the concept of sexuality being fluid.

Best scene in story: I like when they go to Carole's mansion and see the works of art. It's amazing to get a glimpse into Peter's everyday world.

Opinion about the main character: I like how honest Peter is with himself.

The review of this Book prepared by Samuel Sattin a Level 3 Eurasian Jay scholar

Chapter Analysis of By Nightfall

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Plot & Themes

Tone of book?    -   very sensitive (sigh) Time/era of story    -   2000+ (Present Day) Internal struggle/realization?    -   Yes Is this an adult or child's book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book Drinking/Drugs problems?    -   drugs Love problems?    -   gay guy urges

Main Character

Gender    -   Male Profession/status:    -   artist Ethnicity/Nationality    -   White (American)


United States    -   Yes The US:    -   Northeast

Writing Style

Sex in book?    -   Yes What kind of sex:    -   descript of kissing    -   actual description of hetero sex    -   Weiner talk! Amount of dialog    -   roughly even amounts of descript and dialog

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Michael Cunningham Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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