BY NIGHTFALL, Michael Cunningham’s latest novel, begins with a quote from Rilke’s Duino Elegies concerning the terrifying, unfathomable power of beauty—its ability to rattle our foundations and take us unawares. True to form, Cunningham explores here a region that’s outside the sexual mainstream, whether gay or straight, in this case the story of a straight man who’s an art dealer in a stable but staid marriage, whose world is rocked by the arrival of his wife’s much younger brother, the gorgeous, charming, and deceitful “Mizzy” (for “Mistake,” as his birth was unplanned).
Cunningham’s first novel, A Home at the End of the World, was published in 1990 to wide acclaim. His next novel, Flesh and Blood, published in 1995, was an intense family drama worthy of The Sopranos (much of it taking place in New Jersey). The Hours, a re-imagined and updated take on Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for literature and was made into a successful film version starring Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Ed Harris, and Nicole Kidman. His next novel was Specimen Days in 2005, which is actually a trio of novellas inspired by the life and poetry of Walt Whitman. A Home at the End of the World was made into a movie in 2004, with a screenplay written by Cunningham and starring Colin Farrell, Dallas Roberts, Robin Penn Wright, and Sissy Spacek. He co-wrote, with Susan Minot, a screenplay for the 2007 film, adapted from Minot’s novel Evening, starring Vanessa Redgrave, Natasha Richardson, Glenn Close, and Meryl Streep.
Cunningham was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1952 and grew up in Pasadena, California. He received his B.A. in English literature from Stanford University and his M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. He lives in New York City with his partner of 24 years, psychoanalyst and artist Ken Corbett. He also spends time in Provincetown, which is the setting for Land’s End: A Walk Through Provincetown (2002).
I spoke with Michael Cunningham in person during his recent book tour.