Publication date: November 10th 2015
Genres: Short Stories
When I think of Michael Cunningham many things about his writing come to mind: poetic, compelling… so many adjectives, and yet funny is not among them. Not that he is dark or his writing is without joy, but until I read his newest book, a series of short stories called A Wild Swan, he’d never made me laugh out loud. Now he puts a modern spin on eleven fairy tales and does so in a way that is ferociously funny and in the case of some, tender.
The tales come from various sources such as the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. Snow White is living happily ever after with the prince who brought her back to life with a kiss only now he kind of likes and needs to replay the moment of her asleep in the glass coffin as foreplay. She, on the other hand, is kind of tired of it but acquiesces to make him happy. The steadfast tin soldier still has only one leg but he lost the other in a car accident and is now a handsome college kid trying to get the girl he’s had a crush on into bed. Somehow, they fall in love, get married, have kids and even succumb to midlife marital ennui. The grand passion of the fairytale tin soldier and his paper ballerina are softened into the real life love of a long-term marriage. And Rumpelstiltskin? Not a nasty evil gnome taking advantage of a family, but merely a misunderstood little man whose desire for a child gets a bit out of hand.
Cunningham’s ability to complement the original style of each of the stories makes A Wild Swan inventive reading. For those of us who loved fairy tales when we were small (Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books remained a favorite of mine long after childhood) there will be the recognition of tales forgotten, tempered with the modern perspective Cunningham imagines. In this way, he makes the stories of A Wild Swan like adulthood— the illusion of their perfect happily-ever-after is whimsical and charming, but the grown-up perspective provides humor, tenderness and sometimes the somberness of real life.