Friday, May 9, 2014

Book Review: "The Snow Queen" by Michael Cunningham

Barrett and Tyler Meeks are brothers. They're different in many ways—Barrett, who is gay, hasn't been able to settle down enough in his life to pursue a serious vocation, while Tyler is a struggling musician, obsessed with what is going on in the world around him. But they're also fairly similar, as both brothers are fiercely protective of each other (owing to a promise each made separately to their mother when they were younger), and neither is utterly satisfied with the direction their life is taking.

Tyler's fiancé, Beth, is dying. There's still some hope that she may beat her disease, but no one is optimistic enough to say so. Tyler's main task is to write a wedding song for Beth, one that won't seem maudlin or overly sentimental, despite the situation. He has been Beth's caregiver, her watchdog, her guardian angel, but he isn't sure what his life would be without her. And despite promises made to everyone, Tyler uses cocaine more often than he should, as he feels it gives him more clarity and enables his creative process. But, of course, he's not addicted.

"It seems possible that all the surprises (he didn't exactly plan on being an unknown musician at forty-three, living in eroticized chastity with his dying girlfriend and his younger brother, who has turned, by slow degrees, from a young wizard into a tired middle-aged magician, summoning doves out of a hat for the ten thousandth time) have been part of an inscrutable effort, too immense to see; some accumulation of lost chances and canceled plans and girls who were almost but not quite, all of which seemed random at the time but have brought him here, to this window, to his difficult but interesting life..."

Meanwhile, Barrett, dealing with the surprising (to him) demise of another relationship, sees a mysterious light in the sky while walking through Central Park one night. He knows it isn't a star or a comet or a plane, and almost believes it is some sort of signal from God, although he cannot figure out what it means. Desperate to understand the meaning of that light, he finds himself turning to spirituality and religion to try and find some answers.

The Snow Queen tells the story of Barrett, Tyler, and Beth, as each searches for fulfillment and the chance to understand their own destiny. The book spans from Election Day in 2004 through Election Day in 2008, and follows the three of them (along with a few of their circle of friends) as they struggle to find meaning in their lives. It's a tremendously introspective book, one which demonstrates (much like life) that there are no easy answers, and the answers are different for each of us. It's a poignant, moving story that definitely makes you think.

Michael Cunningham is one of my favorite authors. So many times in reading The Snow Queen, I was utterly mesmerized by the poetry of his language, even in describing simple emotions or situations. I enjoyed this book, although not as much as some of his others, like The Hours, A Home at the End of the World, and By Nightfall, but I was still moved, intrigued, and amazed by Cunningham's storytelling. Tremendously interesting read.

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