The Snow Queen is a modern fairy tale, one in which hardly anything happens. Cunningham has written beautifully about hardly anything happening though. In The Snow Queen two brothers muddle through life; neither one of them has lived up to his promise. Tyler, a coke addict, has not become the famous musician he believes himself capable of, Barrett dropped out of Ivy League College and has come to live with his brother and to work with Tyler’s girl friend Beth who owns a shop selling expensive vintage.
At the start of the novel Barrett has a mystical experience. While walking in Central Park he sees a light in the sky which he takes for a higher existence contacting him. At the same moment Tyler watches the snow fall from his window while Beth, dying of terminal cancer, is lying in the bed behind him. Cunningham paints a bleak picture of two men dealing with disappointment and sorrow. He does not give the reader excitement, he gives the reader beautifully written paragraphs on contemplating death and bereavement, on thinking about literature and philosophy, on friends and lovers.
Barretts mystical experience makes him think about religion and about what to further expect of life. He realizes that living as he does might just suit him. He even accepts that he will probably spend the rest of his life on his own, that he will never meet mister Right. Which is precisely what happens towards the end: in a shop deciding between Coca Cola or Pepsi Barrett meets Sam. Beth’s death sets Tyler free in a certain way. He changes coke for heroine and all of a sudden inspiration arrives. He is given a contract and writes his first album. He might become a (slightly) famous musician after all; one struggling with addiction and continually contemplating jumping out of windows though. Cunningham’s fairy tale ending has nothing to do with big castles and living happily ever after. His fairy tale ending is about just going on, satisfied with what life offers.
I got lost in the beautiful language of The Snow Queen which turned a story about two losers coming to grips with their lives into a fairy tale.