Summary and book reviews of The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham

The Snow Queen

by Michael Cunningham

The Snow Queen
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2014, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2015, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Suzanne Reeder

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About this Book

Book Summary

The Snow Queen, beautiful and heartbreaking, comic and tragic, proves again that Cunningham is one of the great novelists of his generation.

Michael Cunningham's luminous novel begins with a vision. It's November 2004. Barrett Meeks, having lost love yet again, is walking through Central Park when he is inspired to look up at the sky; there he sees a pale, translucent light that seems to regard him in a distinctly godlike way. Barrett doesn't believe in visions - or in God - but he can't deny what he's seen.

At the same time, in the not-quite-gentrified Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, Tyler, Barrett's older brother, a struggling musician, is trying - and failing - to write a wedding song for Beth, his wife-to-be, who is seriously ill. Tyler is determined to write a song that will be not merely a sentimental ballad but an enduring expression of love.

Barrett, haunted by the light, turns unexpectedly to religion. Tyler grows increasingly convinced that only drugs can release his creative powers. Beth tries to face mortality with as much courage as she can summon.

Cunningham follows the Meeks brothers as each travels down a different path in his search for transcendence. In subtle, lucid prose, he demonstrates a profound empathy for his conflicted characters and a singular understanding of what lies at the core of the human soul.

The Snow Queen, beautiful and heartbreaking, comic and tragic, proves again that Cunningham is one of the great novelists of his generation.

Excerpt
The Snow Queen

A celestial light appeared to Barrett Meeks in the sky over Central Park, four days after Barrett had been mauled, once again, by love. It was by no means his first romantic dropkick, but it was the first to have been conveyed by way of a five- line text, the fifth line of which was a crushingly corporate wish for good luck in the future, followed by three lowercase xxx's.

During the past four days, Barrett had been doing his best to remain undiscouraged by what seemed, lately, to be a series of progressively terse and tepid breakups. In his twenties, love had usually ended in fits of weeping, in shouts loud enough to set off the neighbors' dogs. On one occasion, he and his soon- to- be- ex had fought with their fists (Barrett can still hear the table tipping over, the sound the pepper mill made as it rolled lopsidedly across the floorboards). On another: a shouting match on Barrow Street, a bottle shattered (the words "falling in love" still suggest, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Discuss the novel's title. Did your understanding of it shift throughout the book? How do the characters experience the Snow Queen's "Mirror of Reason," described in the epigraph by Hans Christian Andersen?
  2. When we first meet Barrett, what are his impressions of his destiny? What shapes his understanding of fate and love as the novel unfolds?
  3. What are your interpretations of The Snow Queen's celestial lights? What is Barrett seeking while he watches the priest an d parishioners in the Armenian Church? What does he find?
  4. How does Beth's illness inspire those around her? What is her role within her circle of loved ones?
  5. How were Tyler and Barrett affected by their mother's ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

At its core, The Snow Queen is about searching: for clarity, miracles, faith, love, and meaningful work. Despite some flaws, the book is a sensitively rendered story in which significance, even hope, might be found in a stunning night sky yet also may be present closer to home, just waiting to be discovered.   (Reviewed by Suzanne Reeder).

Full Review Members Only (779 words).

Media Reviews

USA Today

The Snow Queen wears its contemporaneity lightly, because the novel really concerns itself with eternal themes: the quest for love, the unfairness and inevitability of death and the hope of a meaningful life . . . [A] thoughtful, intimate novel.

The Washington Post

Cunningham weaves an ode to the immortal city of New York and its artistic souls and lost citizens. . . With elegant prose that peeks into the most private thoughts of his characters, Cunningham challenges the reader to imagine a pervasive, indifferent god—if any god even exists

The New York Times

Michael Cunningham’s resonant new novel . . . is arguably [his] most original and emotionally piercing book to date

Vogue

[T]he pursuit of transcendence in all kinds of forms - music, drugs, a McQueen minidress, and those things less tangible but no less powerfully felt - drives Michael Cunningham's best novel in more than a decade, The Snow Queen.

Publishers Weekly

Cunningham has not attempted to answer any of life's great questions here, but his poignant and heartfelt novel raises them in spades.

Kirkus Reviews

A stellar writer working on a small canvas; Cunningham has done greater work.

Library Journal

Starred Review. In concise yet descriptive language, Cunningham weaves the secret of transcendence through the mundane occurrences of everyday life.

Booklist

Starred Review. Tender, funny, and sorrowful, Cunningham's beautiful novel is as radiant and shimmering as Barrett's mysterious light in the sky, gently illuminating the gossamer web of memories, feelings, and hopes that mysteriously connect us to each other as the planet spins its way round and round the sun.

The Irish Independent

The Snow Queen is inspired by classic fairytales, though Cunningham’s sensibilities skew in a thoroughly modern (even post-modern) direction, resulting in a very beautiful hodgepodge . . . The lush writing is gorgeous throughout.

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Beyond the Book

Brooklyn's Bushwick Neighborhood

In The Snow Queen, Michael Cunningham sets many scenes in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick, an area that's still working toward revitalization after decades of economic strife and urban turbulence.

Bushwick and the areas now known as Williamsburg and Greenpoint were originally one Dutch settlement, the Town of Bushwick. The land was officially chartered by Governor Peter Stuyvesant in 1660 and called Boswijck, which means heavy woods.

Bushwick Church The area was rural until the 1850s. The former Town of Bushwick then merged with the City of Brooklyn in 1855. Afterward, population doubled and tripled every 20 years. Varying industry — including shipping, oil, pottery, and clothing — thrived along the waterfront and attracted ...

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