author Michael Cunningham's latest novel, The Snow Queen
, opens with an enigmatic image of revelation. Walking through Central Park days after being ignominiously dumped by his latest boyfriend, Barrett Meeks, "love's holy fool," sees a vision: "a pale aqua light, translucent, a swatch of veil, star-high." The apparition couldn't have appeared at a better time; Barrett, in his late 30s, is underemployed and desperate for a miracle, which is exactly what he believes he has seen. Not wanting to be lumped together with "crackpots and delusionals," he keeps the vision a secret from everyone, including his brother and roommate, Tyler. A gifted musician still playing bar gigs at age 43, Tyler, too, has a secret: He's slipped deeper into drug addiction, even as he's struggling to write a wedding song for his dying fiancée, Beth. Both brothers are romantics, driven by "a sense of compromised but still-living hope" to search for connection and magic, to "sing ferociously into the heart of the world." In exquisite prose, Cunningham takes his characters on grand metaphysical excursions as they ponder what constitutes devotion and betrayal, wrestle with how to interpret ambiguous signs, and attempt to stay optimistic in the face of grim prognoses and dashed dreams. Snow and ice pervade a novel that's as eerie and unsettling as it is transformative.