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Fairy tale writers are the worst closers in the biz. Oh sure, they can spin a good yarn, full of magic, romance and now I can’t sleep at night terror. But when the time comes to wrap it all up, the best most can come up with is “and they lived happily ever after.”
They have been clever enough to sell this weakness as a virtue, calling it tradition and pretending they have no choice. But believe me, they catch it hard at literary festivals.
And now in print, courtesy of Michael Cunningham. In A Wild Swan and Other Tales (exquisitely illustrated by Yuko Shimizu) the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer details “the moments that our fairy tales forgot or deliberately concealed: the years after a spell is broken, the rapturous instant of a miracle unexpectedly realized, or the fate of a prince only half cured of a curse. The Beast stands ahead of you in line at the convenience store, buying smokes and a Slim Jim, his devouring smile aimed at the cashier. A malformed little man with a knack for minor acts of wizardry goes to disastrous lengths to procure a child. A loutish and lazy Jack prefers living in his mother's basement to getting a job, until the day he trades a cow for a handful of magic beans.”
Describing the book as “positively delectable” in her New York Times review, Jennifer Senior writes: “He tells his stories with the same louche, ominous disdain of the M.C. in “Cabaret.” … But this is still Michael Cunningham we’re talking about. He can’t help but write movingly, even as he’s setting fire to our most cherished childhood texts. This book is studded with unexpected moments of grace. …This is the melancholy secret Mr. Cunningham knows and tells so well, time and time again: Happiness is as much something you remember as something you experience. Rare moments of pure joy ought to be stoppered in a bottle, or at least captured on an iPhone. When the possibilities seem limitless and anticipation abounds — that’s when we’re at our happiest, before we ever have a chance to know the ever after.”
- Read, and listen to Michael read, a story from A Wild Swan.
- Read another story.
- Read an interview.
- Visit Michael’s official website.
Michael Cunningham’s Top Ten List
1. King Lear by William Shakespeare (1605).
2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857).
3. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1855–91).
4. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (1927).
5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925).
6. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955).
7. Dubliners by James Joyce (1916).
8. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (1930).
9. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (1898).
10. The stories of Flannery O’Connor (for their unerring narrative focus) (1925–64).