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The Snow Queen, Michael Cunningham

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, May 6, 2014

Who doesn’t want—who doesn’t need—a moon at which to marvel, a fabled city of glass and gold on the far side of the ocean?

A film trailer begins.

In a world ...

A chuckle from somewhere in the darkness, a movie theater perhaps, else coming out of a memory from a wasteland of dead pasts. It could even be a premonition, an echo traveling back from some unknown future. A sign from the universe. The trailer continues.

He came to the big city looking for it all. He got a whole lot more than he bargained for.

Oh, the power of a mind at rest.

Paramount Pictures presents an epic journey into love, ambition, purpose.

Life’s grandest desires, bright lights, big city. It is a dreamer’s lot to transform the gift of talents—bestowed, imagined, somewhere in between—into staring roles with top billing no matter the vocation. Poet. Novelist. Actor. Teacher. Mother. Songwriter. Physicist. Lover. Top of the charts. Inhaling deep breaths of fulfillment, exhaling no regrets.

It would be silly, it would be churlish, for Liz to disparage as she walks invisibly among them; it would be mean-spirited not to convey to them, telepathically, her hope that they survive as gracefully as possible the day the cord starts tightening (we need a bigger place, now that the baby is almost two), the year they understand that they’re charming eccentrics now, still working in computer graphics or as sound technicians, not by any means unrecognizable to themselves but members (surprise) of the rest of the aging population, the latest version (hipster version) of the forty-year-olds who still sport a few vestiges of punk, the fifty-year-olds (that’s you, Liz) who still work, in a modified way, that thrift-store cowgirl-hooker thing.

Rex Reed calls it, “Haunting.”

“Pure movie magic,” raves Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune.

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times, says “See it now.”

And if after the critics have all been accounted for (universal praise), what would be left but to include within the teaser a key scene from the film? It should be affecting, one that will lodge so deeply within voters’ hearts and minds that when the time comes to fill out those ballots, the choice will have already been made. Undoubtedly, in this film, it would have to be a morbid scene about death or dying, unthinkable loss, or the conundrum of survivor’s guilt that digs us all the more deeply into the trenches of that very human need to make a mark if for no other reason than to avoid the weight of realization that all the precious time we had been gifted was so carelessly wasted, or, at a minimum, to feel slightly less incriminated for being the ones given the chance to do the wasting at all.

How do you account for love and mortality (the real thing, not some till-death-do-us-part throwaway) without morbidity?

To further build intrigue, a song would then play over a carefully chosen montage of meaningful scenes. The song’s lyrics may seem heavy but we promise, insists the man in a neatly pressed Armani suit from a leading advertising firm, the selected tune is not only catchy but it is in keeping with the spirit and message of the film. And it doesn’t hurt that it might appeal to a younger demographic.

“I’m O.K.
With my decay
I have no choice
I have no voice
I have no say
On my decay
I have no choice so I’ll rejoice”

-from the Grandaddy song, “O.K. With My Decay

The director responds in kind that he or she has another song in mind. (We can only assume Madge’s record company was charging too much for the rights to use anything from her catalog.)

“Is it gettin’ heavy?
Well I thought it was already as heavy
As can be”

-from the Flaming Lips song, “Waitin’ for a Superman (Is It Gettin’ Heavy??)

Regardless the song choice, the final shot is a lock: snow floating down ever so gently, mystically, a suggestion that the film is indeed a fairy tale. And then the words Coming Soon will appear, superimposed over the frame.

Promising words, these two stragglers: Coming Soon. As if any morbidity brought on by a closer examination of death is now over and we are back to the land of inevitability, promises of tomorrow—that place where nothing bad could possibly happen, at least not before all the dreamers’ dreams have all been signed, sealed, and delivered.

Is it more tragic, or is it less, to slip so quietly and briefly into and out of the world? To have added, and altered, so little.

But instead, although it can hardly come as a surprise, there isn’t a trailer at all. There was never a film. No giant screen, no RPX, no 3D, no greasy fat fingers scooping down into big ol’ buckets of oddly expensive popcorn.

Nope. Sorry to say, it’s just some dark empty room, anonymous and vague.

It’s hardly ever the destination we’ve been anticipating, is it?

For sanity’s sake, maybe it is time to expect less out of life, not more. It could be that ambition is overrated, even a little debilitating. What if these good for nothing dreams are killing us from the inside out?

Andrew says, “People do that. People get sick from their lives.”

Michael Cunningham’s The Snow Queen is a novel of ideas that is laced with sentences of undeniable elegance. In browsing through all the excerpts that I highlighted, I am struck by how many induce equal parts reflection and admiration. Like one that reminds me of two friends of my own: one battling a serious illness, the other offering undying support not out of some perverse sense of obligation but simply because he is a friend and nothing could ever change that or anything else.

“You didn’t recoil from her. I saw it. You watched death eat her up, not just once but twice, and you didn’t lose your hold on her. You didn’t stop recognizing her.”

Final thought, if not too late. To expound upon the earlier suggestion to expect less out of life, maybe we should take it a step further and hope for less as well. Great expectations are great and all, but what about scaling it all back so that we might actually have a chance to arrive at a destination? Say, a place for just you and me. Okay a dog too, if that’s what you want. But that’s it. Nothing more. No postcard sunset. No scenic overlook. No historic monuments. No salt water swimming pool out back. No secret signs to offer up hints at some bigger meaning behind it all. In the contentment I envision, the only truly meaningful sign the universe might give us will come atop store racks adorned with the word CLEARANCE gloriously displayed in all caps.

“Hm. Okay. I found a pair of Jimmy Choos at T. J. Maxx, that’s kind of a miracle, right?”

And that will be that.

He’ll be happy enough. That hope strikes him as reasonable.

It will be decent enough, nothing more, nothing less. Our own little world, modest, fragile, and beautiful, like a scene locked forever inside a snow globe to be shaken in the palm of a hand.