By Nightfall – Michael Cunningham – Quotes

Parenthood, it seems makes you nervous for the rest of your life. Even when your daughter is twenty and full of cheerful, impenetrable rage and not doing at all well in Boston, 240 miles away.

He says, „Something seems to be going on with Bette.”
How many other Bettes were at the party? How much of his life is devoted to answering these obvious little questions; how much closer does he move to a someday stroke with every fit of mini-rage over the fact that Rebecca has not been paying attention, has not been with the goddamned program?

Insomniacs know better than anyone how it would be to haunt a house.
Hold me, darkness. What’s that? An old rock lyric, or a feeling?
The trouble is…
There’s no trouble. How could he, how could any member of the .00001 percent of the prospering population, dare to be troubled? Who said to Joseph McCarthy, „Have you no shame, sir?” You don’t have to be a vicious right-wing zealot to entertain the question.
It’s your life, quite possibly your only one. Still you find yourself having a vodka at three a.m., waiting for your pill to kick in, with time ticking through you and your own ghost already wandering among your rooms.
The trouble is….

„Not in. It’s a dry garden. It’s raked gravel. You sit to one side and look at it.”
Yew set to one sad and look et it. No denying the musky sweetness of that Virginia tone.
„For a whole month,” Peter says.
„At first, I thought something amazing was happening. It turns out there’s this noise in our heads, we’re all so used to it we don’t hear it. This sort of static information and misinformation and what-all. After about a week of just looking at five rocs and some gravel, it starts to go away.”
„And is replaced by?”

Hm. Another one of those impossible marriage-moments. Feign agreement, or risk implosion.

Now that he’s ascending in the elevator, thought – now that he’s entered the short interlude of floaty nowhere – he’s filled with a sense of childish release, the old feeling that because you are sick, all your trials and obligations have been suspended.

There can’t be a dealer in New York, or anywhere, who hasn’t gotten variations of that phone call: loved it in the gallery, but now it seems all wrong in our living room. There’s a standard response: art is sensitive to its environment, let me come over and if we can’t make it work I will of course take it back… But really, more often than not, what happens to the piece when it arrives in a living room is, it lacks the potency to stand up to an actual room, even if the room itself is awful (as these rooms so often are – the rich tend to love their gilt and granite, their garish upholstery fabric that cost three forty a yard). Most of Peter’s cohorts blame the rooms, and Peter understands – the rooms are often not only gaudy and overdone, they have that sense of the conqueror about them, and the painting or the sculpture in question usually enters such rooms as the latest capture. Peter however has other feelings. He believes that real work of art can be owned but should not be subject to capture; that it should radiate such authority, such bizarre but confident beauty (or unbeauty) that it can’t be undone by even the most ludicrous sofas or side tables. A real work of art should rule the room, and the clients should call up not to complain about the art but to say that the art has helped them understand how the room is all a horrible mistake, can Peter suggest a designer to help them start over again?

The Groff urn, it must be said, feels like an object that could hold its own. It has that most vital and least describable of the fundamental qualities – authority.

It’s good. It’s fucked up, but it’s good. It not only has presence as an object, it has actual content, which is rare these days – content, that is, beyond a fragment of a fragment of a simple idea.

„You know what I am?” he says.
„I’m an ordinary person.”
„Come on.”
„I know. Who isn’t an ordinary person? How horribly presumptuous to want to be anything else. But I have to tell you. I’ve been treated as something special for so long and I’ve tried my hardest to be something special, but I’m not, I’m not exceptional, I’m smart enough, but I’m not brilliant and I’m not spiritual or even all that focused. I think I can stand that, but I’m not sure if the people around me can.”

Bea, in all likelihood, will embark on a lifelong career of hating her father, which will be some consolation to her, plus she’s had a lot of practice already.

I didn’t want to be myself. I didn’t want to be some mature, levelheaded person who could cut him a check. I wanted to be young and fucked up and, I don’t know. Free.

Oh, little man. You have brought down your house not through passion but by neglect. You who dared to think of yourself as dangerous. You are guilty not of the epic transgressions but the tiny crimes. You have failed in the most base of human ways – you have not imagined the lives of others.

My review of By Nightfall

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska 

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