cover image A Wild Swan

A Wild Swan

Michael Cunningham, illus. by Yuko Shimizu. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $23 (144p) ISBN 978-0-374-29025-2

The latest from Cunningham (The Snow Queen) offers elegant, sardonic retellings of 10 iconic fairy tales, including “Beauty and the Beast,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and “Rapunzel.” Using present-day details and distinctly adult observations to imagine what happens before, after, and behind the familiar narratives, Cunningham explores the often disastrous transformations wrought by love and need. Having expected “ruin to arrive in a grander and more romantic form,” the title character in “Crazy Old Lady” is undone by loneliness long before a tattooed pair of siblings (“those young psychopaths, those beaten children”) arrive on her candy doorstep. An unnamed but recognizable Snow White conducts a bedtime negotiation with a partner still erotically fixated on her past; in “Little Man,” a gnome spins straw into gold to win the child he desperately longs for, something “readily available to any drunk and barmaid who link up for three minutes in one of the darker corners of any dank and scrofulous pub.” Though grounded in the inevitable disenchantment of human life—“Most of us can be counted on to manage our own undoings,” the introduction notes wryly—Cunningham’s tales enlarge rather than reduce the haunting mystery of their originals. Striking black-and-white images from illustrator Shimizu add a fitting visual counterpoint to a collection at once dark and delightful. (Nov.)