Book Review: Exhibitionism

This book by the author of The Hours is a frozen confection of a novel, at once simple and intricate – and gorgeous

Exhibitionism

by Michael Cunningham
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 272 pp., $26

Michael Cunningham's The Snow Queen is a frozen confection of a novel, a simple yet intricate domestic drama written from the multiple viewpoints of a tight-knit, nontraditional family. The brief tale seems exhaled all in one frosty breath, so that when the characters' voices occasionally bleed into one another, it's a testimony to the novel's underlying message about intimacy and connection.

With a lighter touch than Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning Virginia Woolf homage The Hours, The Snow Queen introduces Barrett and Tyler Meeks: two brothers, one gay and one straight, whose lifelong intimacy is amplified during the sickness of Tyler's fiancée Beth, the "snow queen" of the title. The book begins with the recently dumped Barrett seeing a mysterious light in the sky over Central Park, and the mystical revelation haunts the book, its significance never quite explained except as a metaphor for the characters' yearning to believe that flickers of self-knowledge and connectedness can change us. For Cunningham, such moments are only decipherable through the Rosetta Stone of literature, which is why the most important characters in his novels always seem to have a thorough knowledge of their resemblance to the characters of Henry James and Edith Wharton.

Literary references aside, however, there's an adolescent moodiness to Cunningham's prose, like Michael Stipe lyrics unwisely copied into a love letter, that gets melty in the harsh light of day. As with a Popsicle, the book is best enjoyed in one sitting, before it starts to drip. Whether pondering divine encounters, limning a young man's beauty, or overusing the word "miniature," the prose hovers a bit too much over its own reflection, but is beautiful enough to get away with it. One hopes that Cunningham will continue to knock out another of these gorgeous little snow globes of humanity every four or five years, and that they will always be as lusciously readable as this one.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More The Snow Queen
All Aboard for Middle Earth
All Aboard for Middle Earth
Before the Film "Lord of the Rings' Sends You to Tolkien Country, Second Youth's Stage Version of "The Hobbit' Can Take You There and Back Again

Robert Faires, Nov. 9, 2001

Exhibitionism
The Snow Queen
Local Arts Reviews

Barry Pineo, Nov. 3, 2000

More Arts Reviews
<i>The City of Brass</i> by S.A. Chakraborty
The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
This debut fantasy novel is appealing, in part because it draws on legends of the Arab world for its magic

Elizabeth Cobbe, March 2, 2018

Esther's Follies: The Laughs, the Gossip, and the Story Behind Texas' Most Celebrated Comedy Troupe
Esther's Follies: The Laughs, the Gossip, and the Story Behind Texas' Most Celebrated Comedy Troupe
In his history of Esther's, author Jesse Sublett follows the flow of four decades of frivolity

Robert Faires, Dec. 1, 2017

More by Amy Gentry
The Good Eye: The Pulse
The Good Eye: The Pulse
The Good Eye says goodbye

April 3, 2015

The Good Eye: Allies in the Industry
The Good Eye: Allies in the Industry
Giving Austin actresses a seat at the table

March 27, 2015

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

The Snow Queen, Michael Cunningham

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2018

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle