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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Can you hear me now?

By Nightfall
Michael Cunningham
FSG, 2010

Peter and Rebecca Harris have settled into a comfortable mid-life with their careers as an art dealer and editor in Manhattan. Their only daughter is in college, and while she is experiencing some issues with her choices and her parents, everything seems to be on an even keel for Peter. He is happy with his career and his wife and his life -- until Rebecca’s brother Mizzy shows up.

Mizzy, short for Mistake, was born late in his parents’ lives and was a surprise. As the youngest of three sisters, Mizzy was raised spoiled and coddled and has done nothing with his life, which is fast approaching 40. He also has a history of drug abuse, which makes it debatable whether Peter and Rebecca should take him in – again. After much discussion, they decide to let him stay for a while, but his presence is confusing to Peter. He finds himself attracted to this younger male version of his wife and these conflicting feelings make things uncomfortable between them. In fact, Peter is having a sort of midlife crisis. He thought he was settling into middle age easily, but his career, his friends, his wife, and his daughter are causing him concern, maybe even worry. He’s not sure what he wants or what he should do.

Peter does a lot of thinking and self-reflection as he tries to figure things out. In fact, he does so much thinking and self-reflection that I lost patience with him about a third of the way through the book. A long time ago when I was in college, I worked as a proofreader for the school newspaper. The faculty advisor was also one of the college librarians and since I worked at the library, he and I were friends of sorts. As I proofed a particular article, Mr. Koehler told me that he didn’t care for the writer’s style because it was “mental masturbation.” In other words, the writer was more interested in writing for his own sake than sharing any information or ideas with the reading public.

In many ways, this term can be used to describe Peter. He muses (or obsesses) about everything:
· Why his daughter is giving him the cold shoulder
· Life in the city and how great it was
· Art collectors and/or art collecting
· Whether he should fire his two helpers
· Should he tell his wife about Mizzy’s drug use
· Was he gay if he was attracted to a man
· What was Mizzy thinking?
· What was Mizzy thinking now? What was Mizzy doing now?
· And now? What about now?

I finished the book but could have cared less what happened.


Other books by this author:
At Home at the End of the World (1990)
Flesh and Blood (1995)
The Hours (1998)
Specimen Days (2005)

Other titles you may enjoy:

All He Ever Wanted by Anita Shreve (2003)
Years after escaping from a hotel fire and encountering an elusive woman, whom he subsequently married and divorced, a man travels from New England to Florida by train and remembers the relationship.

That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo (2009)
The lives of Jack and Joy Griffin always seem to come back to Cape Cod, where they honeymooned, as they experience the ups and downs of life, including the deaths of Jack's parents, the marriage of their daughter, and Jack and Joy's divorce.

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