THE SNOW QUEEN by Michael Cunningham

Whenever my hands hold the newest book by Michael Cunningham, I’m hit with an adrenaline rush on par with all the firsts in my life: My imagination is primed and a crescendo of music holds me up until I turn to the first page and let myself couple with the opening sentence. Cunningham has his finger on the pulse of human emotion, and with the skill of an ace dissector he lays the depth of it before us with pathos and humor.

A celestial light appeared to Barrett Meeks in the sky over Central Park, four days after Barrett had been mauled, once again, by love. 

Cunningham is as far from Harlan Coben as you can get. There are no big events, no cliff-hanging chapter endings. Instead, we are riveted because of our investment in the characters. Their inner journey is what propels and intrigues. The desire of intent, for all his characters, is as powerful as the events of a thriller.

He doesn’t need to be Mozart, or Jimi Hendrix. It’s not as if he’s trying to invent the flying buttress, or crack the time-space continuum.

It’s a song. All Tyler requires of it, really is that it be more than three and a half minutes worth of pleasantly occupied air.

Or. Well okay. All Tyler requires of it is that it be better—a little better, please, just a little—than what he’s technically capable of producing. 

The inner journey of his characters allows the reader to catch a glimpse of the understated simplicity of life that is often mistaken by the characters as something unlikeable. This unrest with the current circumstances drives the characters to reexamine what it is in life that they truly want. How they come to embrace their heart’s desire is a process and they are often led to uncover it only after they come into a state of heightened awareness.

The rim of the kitchen table, ridged aluminum, is nicked at the rear corner, a small vee, at the base of which a breadcrumb stolidly resides. 

Minute details, such as the above, also underscore the isolation and the off-kilter quality of the characters and the situation. Cunningham is all about selectivity and specifics, and he wins big in The Snow Queen. By choosing to set the events of the story during the 2004 term of George W. Bush’s presidency, the disastrous effects of his time in office smashes against the faith and hope these characters pray to survive on.

Here’s his shape, the vee of his torso, the compact, shaven helmet of his head, as if standing were part of a dance for which most of the population has somehow failed to learn the steps.

The brevity and depth of each thought he lays upon the page blows me away. How does he do it over and over again, select exactly the right words for placement, in just the right order so we, the readers, feel as if we are caught in an emotional snowball rolling down hill to the finish line?

People are more than you think they are. And they’re less, as well. The trick lies in negotiating your way between the two.

Loneliness pervades Cunningham’s work. His characters stir in a world where they feel lost and alone, and yet, somehow, rather than sadness, beauty is the essence. The tenderness of embracing all of who you are and finding the strength to own it is like sinking an anchor into the earth and announcing, “I’m here.”

Faith, Hope and Awe for Life: The Snow Queen.