Review of The Snow Queen

The Snow Queen
Michael Cunningham
Copyright 2014
pp. 256

The Snow Queen deals with adults who haven’t made it big, or even made it at all in their own eyes, and the dichotomy between that and how society traditionally defines success. The main characters are two adult brothers, Barrett and Tyler, living in present day New York City. Barrett is gay. Tyler is not.

Cunningham explores how Barrett and Tyler define themselves in relation to each other, to those they love and to their own expectations in regards to where they expected themselves to be by this point in their lives. His ability to delve into relationships has always been one of his strong points. On the flip-side, he seems to have a fondness lately for characters who are deceived, this was a theme in his last book, Before Night Falls, as well.

I could read Cunningham all day just for the quality of the prose. And if you haven’t read any of his previous books I recommend you check them out, including, if you can find them, his short stories from the Atlantic Monthly.

The Snow Queen isn’t the Great Gay American Novel that I keep hoping Cunningham is going to write, because I think he could (and truth be told because I’m selfish and I want him to), not because I think he necessarily wants to himself but it is worth reading as an exploration of how we define ourselves publicly and privately – and because it’s beautifully written.

An interesting side note, I just assume Cunningham’s books will feature gay characters because they usually do and I’m familiar with his work.  However, just looking at the Snow Queen, you wouldn’t be able to identify one of the main characters as gay from the dust jacket anywhere. I had to read the first five-pages of the book, which are from the gay character’s perspective, before I was even sure he was gay.  This seems to be a recurring theme in recent mainstream releases and while I applaud the fact that people don’t think it’s necessary to remark when a character is gay any longer it does make it harder for the casual reader to identify books with gay characters if that’s a trait they find of interest.

Is it a Good Gay Read?  Yes, the drug addict isn’t the gay character for a nice change.

Best line: “She was, Barrett thinks, ignored when she was younger – one of the girls who is neither tortured nor sought after – and she’s still unaccustomed to the attention paid her by an adult world more amenable to beauty in its less usual forms.”

Number of Shirtless Men on the Cover:  None – and Snow Queen isn’t a drag reference it refers to Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale by the same name.

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