Friday, August 29, 2014

Review: The Snow Queen

The Snow Queen
By Michael Cunningham
Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux May 2014
258 pages
From the library

The Snow Queen

Tyler and Barrett are brothers sharing a Brooklyn apartment. They both take care of Tyler's girlfriend Beth, who is slowly dying of cancer. While neither of them are leading lives they would call good, there is a comfort to the consistency...until something incredible happens. One snowy night, Barrett sees strange lights in the sky. He doesn't believe in God, but he is convinced that the lights are a message to him. Almost imperceptibly, their lives begin to change.

Barrett and Tyler are both stuck in repetitive mediocrity. Barrett had dreams of doing something great, but now he spends his days working in a vintage clothing shop. He believes that he is happy doing that, but his need to repeat that over and over again makes the reader wonder if he is really trying to convince himself. Tyler is a small time musician who dreams of writing one perfect song for his wife. But he only seems to find inspiration under the influence of drugs. Despite the repeated requests by his brother and friends to stop, he keeps using with the hope of finding some peace and the perfect tune and lyrics. 

In The Snow Queen, Cunningham seems to be hitting readers over the head with his themes and his political views. Tyler becomes a mouthpiece for liberal anger with frequent swipes at Bush, Cheney, and anyone with the audacity to vote Republican. While there were certainly people around the 2004 with plenty of indignation, it wears thin very quickly and seems to be one of the few character traits that Tyler possesses. 

Conversely, readers who want to see Cunningham develop his allusion to the title fairy tale will be disappointed. In the beginning of the story, Tyler stands in front of an open window enjoying the snow falling over the city. Something sharp gets in his eye, just as Kai in the original fairy tale was pierced by the little splinter. But then Cunninham seems to just let the allusion go and there is little, if anything, that calls the fairy tale to mind after that point. 

Reading The Snow Queen will certainly expose you to Cunningham's beautiful sentences and carefully designed scenes. And there are several insightful moments about how we make friends into family and maintain relationships over time. But the characters are quickly forgettable and their search for meaning in their lives will not give you any new insight into yours. If you want to read a Michael Cunningham book, pick up his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Hours


Reviews of Cunningham's The Hours and By Nightfall

13 comments:

  1. I absolutely LOVED the first 75 pages or so of this book. I thought he was writing a book that would inform me of the time in we live. But then it seemed to turn into something else, and I lost interest in what he was doing.

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    1. Yup. I thought something wonderful was going to happen too, and then it just didn't.

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  2. Cunningham's writing is lyrical, but I don't always connect to his characters or feel invested in his stories. Sounds like The Snow Queen kind of follows that pattern.

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    1. That's a fair assessment! I think I keep waiting for a book to live up to The Hours...

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  3. I've never read him! I'll start with the Pulitzer. How is it that there are so many authors that I've never been exposed to--even Pulitzer authors?!

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  4. Dang! I had high hopes for this one, perhaps magical realism and a story of family relationships. I don't like fiction that hits us over the head repeatedly and heavy-handed with politics or religions or anything of that matter, regardless of whether I agree or not with the viewpoint. It distracts, and detracts, from the plot.
    Thanks for the heads-up. Not my cup of tea.

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    1. I was hoping for some magical realism or just more connection to the Snow Queen tale. I'm always sorry to steer someone away from a book, but this is just not the Cunningham novel I would recommend...

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  6. I've read a few other reviews similar to yours . . . I think I'm going to cross this one off my list now. Darn. But you know, it's always good to have a reason to thin out the TBR list!

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    1. Oh goodness. My TBR list is very unwieldy. I guess I'm glad I could help??

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  7. How disappointing! I love fairy tale retellings, but it sounds like this really isn't one, and I almost never like it when stories become a mechanism for an author to share their opinions.

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    1. I thought it might be but it seems that he went in a different direction!

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