cover image The Snow Queen

The Snow Queen

Michael Cunningham. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-374-26632-5

Two brothers grapple with aging, loss, and spirituality in this haunting sixth novel from the author of The Hours and By Nightfall. Barrett Meeks, a middle-aged retail worker with boyfriend troubles, is walking through Central Park one evening when he notices a mysterious light in the sky—a light he can’t help but feel is “apprehending [him]... as he imagined a whale might apprehend a swimmer, with a grave and regal and utterly unfrightened curiosity.” Uncertain what to make of his vision, Barrett returns to the Bushwick, Brooklyn, apartment he shares with his drug-addicted brother, Tyler, and Tyler’s wife, Beth, whose cancer has come to dominate the brothers’ attention. As ever, Cunningham has a way with run-on sentences, and the novel’s lengthy monologues run the gamut from mortality to post-2000 New York City. But at its heart, Cunningham’s story is about family, and how we reconcile our closest human relationships with our innermost thoughts, hopes, and fears. Tyler and Barrett have “a certain feral knowledge of each other” and enjoy “the quietude of growing up together.” They connect over Beth’s illness, and contemplate the unique pressures of dying before one’s time. “Did Persephone sometimes find the summer sun too hot, the flowers more gaudy than beautiful?” Beth wonders. “Did she ever, even briefly, think fondly of the dim silence of Hades?” Cunningham has not attempted to answer any of life’s great questions here, but his poignant and heartfelt novel raises them in spades. (May)