thinking about michael cunningham’s new book?

A celestial light appeared to Barrett Meeks in the sky over Central Park, four days after Barrett had been mauled, once again, by love.

Just yesterday I put Cunningham’s new novel The Snow Queen at the top of my shopping list, but I’m taking it off already after reading “The Book We’re Talking About.”  This Huffington Post review piece has some keen insights that swayed me against it, like suggesting his characters are even more unlikeable than Jonathan Franzen’s.  “Had they been more deeply fleshed out,” the review says, “Cunningham’s book might’ve merited its length.  Otherwise, it’d have worked better as a short story, sans its indulgent observations. ”  Well I have just two words in response to that:  RUN AWAY!

And I’m so disappointed because I was hoping for a “darkly luminous” metaphysical piece after reading Cunningham’s interview with NPR’s Rachel Martin.

MARTIN: Toward the end of the book, Barrett illustrates this search that he’s on. He says, I keep waiting for something, you know, more than looking for love and wondering where to go for dinner. What does his search represent for you? Why is that something you wanted to explore?

CUNNINGHAM: I think the search for something beyond love and what to have for dinner is a big one for a lot of us. I think of Barrett’s desire for a sense of meaning, a sense of transcendence, a sense that his life is about more than just the events of the days. Well, it’s certainly something I think about.

It sounds like a great story — one of those “beautiful and heartbreaking” stories I love — and some of the passages I’ve seen looked so promising, too . . . .

Barrett dries off. The bathwater, now that he’s out of the tub, has turned from its initial, steaming clarity to a tepid murk, as it always does. Why does that happen? Is it soap residue, or Barrett residue — the sloughed-off outermost layer of city grime and deceased epidermis and (he can’t help but thinking this) some measure of his essence, his little greeds and vanities, his self-admiration, his habit of sorrow, washed away, for now, with soap, left behind, to spiral down the drain.

But then The Washington Post says, “For all his stylistic elegance, Cunningham doesn’t offer the theological sophistication and spiritual insight that, say, Marilynne Robinson might bring to the existential questions this novel poses,” and I am too far down the road running to make it back to this book.

“The Book We’re Talking About’s” Rating, out of ten:
6. Although Cunningham makes smart observations about the lives of aging creative types, his story is bogged down by convoluted metaphors.

What’s on your reading list?  Would you consider giving this Cunningham a try?

Oh, maybe I'll just listen to it in the car. Audiobook featuring Cunningham and Claire Danes available through Indiebound

Oh, maybe I’ll just listen to it in the car. Audiobook featuring Cunningham and Claire Danes available through Indiebound

Shop Indie Bookstores



[dot_recommends]    Email This Post


  1. I am already waiting for my turn with it at the local library. Cunningham is a wonderful writer and even if not completely successful or all encompassing in this effort he is asking and pondering provocative questions.

    • I am so torn for all the same reasons you’ve mentioned. I love his sentences. It’s just the length that’s scaring me, and of course the reference to Jonathan Franzen. Any mention of him sends me running. But I am a big fan of convoluted metaphors and stylistic elegance and the existential questions the novel poses–I should just stop reading reviews and listen to it in the car!

Leave a Reply