(K. Brent Tomer),
A Wild Swan and Other Tales. By Michael Cunningham. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 144 pages; $23. Fourth Estate; £14.99.
ADULTS need their comforts, too. Homemade sponge cake; warm baths; bedtime stories, on occasion. Michael Cunningham’s new collection of fairy tales, “A Wild Swan”, will not launch readers into a relaxed, contented sleep. They are too ominous, observant and wry. Just as traditional fairy tales have always done, these contain complex, pointed storytelling that makes one happy to be a grown-up. This writing is not for innocent eyes.
Mr Cunningham reacquaints readers with old characters, reimagined. His prose brings back much of the original swagger and sharpness. Rumpelstiltskin is not villainous, but a good-hearted gnome who yearns to raise a child. He saves a young woman from death and helps her weave gold from straw, only for her to backtrack on her promise to give him her firstborn when she becomes queen. Jack may have climbed a beanstalk three times, but that is the most exercise he has ever done. He is lazy and greedy, and lives with his mother because she is the only person who will not criticise him.
Mr Cunningham, who teaches creative writing at Yale University, is extremely funny and psychologically observant, but he is no believer in happy endings. “The Hours”, a novel published in 1998 for…Continue reading