THE GREAT NIGHT by Chris Adrian

Book Quote:

“…they prepared a feast, chocolate cocks and mashmallow pussies set upon a table…They started to sing as she approached..until she [Titania] grabbed one of the smallest of them, and ignoring its cries, reshaped it, molding its head into a pair of lips a little larger than human-sized and pulling its body into a hollow tube. She made it a pair of wings and…said, ‘You are made to a purpose.’”

Book Review:

Review by Betsey Van Horn  (APR 25, 2011)

In this phantasmagorical tale, Chris Adrian reshaped “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” into a mammoth, messy, tilted, erotic, meandering reimagining of Shakespeare’s comedy into an elaborate feast of faeries and monsters, Lilliputians and giants, demons and derelicts, heart-broken humans and a group of outspoken homeless people who are staging a musical reenactment of Soylent Green. And that is just a segment of the odd and atavistic population of characters that you will meet in this multiple narrative tale of loss, love and exile. As you enter San Francisco’s Buena Vista Park during this millennial summer solstice, the moon shines eerie and luminous over creatures large and small, and a thick wall of fog sluggishly spreads its fingers during the celebration known to the faerie kingdom as the “Great Night.”

Adrian’s visionary epic expands on his short story, “A Tiny Feast,” centering on King Oberon and the ruthless Queen Titania and their changeling son, Boy, who suffered from leukemia. At the start of this novel, Titania is inconsolable after the death of Boy and the subsequent departure of Oberon. She unleashes a malevolent force of magic by removing the controlling constraints of Puck, thereby allowing his demonic urges to run rampant through the park.

Meanwhile, three heartbroken people with doleful memories of forsaken loved ones are lost and trapped in the park on their way to a summer solstice party. The tangled backstories unleash the bitter coils of pain and loss, and the mortals and immortals eventually interlock with loose springs. Molly grew up in a pious, gospel-singing family, fuel for unresolved trauma that preys on her like a ghost, and she remains stuck and heartsick over the suicide of her lover, Ryan. Will is a tree surgeon who was dumped by Carolina, the only woman he has ever loved. Henry has a black past with memory holes; he was abducted as a child and has forgotten the terror of those years. Meanwhile, his obsessive cleaning and hand washing, which serves him well as a physician, has cost him a relationship with pediatrician Bobby, the man of his dreams and now ex-boyfriend.

Adrian flashes backward into the lives of the mortal three and alternates that with the captivity at the park and the faerie kingdom tale. There were shades of John Crowley’s Little, Big, as both books use some similar unrealistic elements and fantasy to enhance the realistic elements and emotional heft. However, Crowley’s faeries are more subtle and subconscious, and don’t violate the moral codes of humanity as wickedly as Adrian’s. Crowley also combines a Carrollian and Dickensian wit and artistry that would have been welcome in Adrian’s story.

The essential problem I had with this book is that the fantastic elements were crowded with too much symbolism, and I had difficulty getting a purchase on the concepts. The visual surrealism, rather than taking me seamlessly to a deeper consciousness and serving as a metaphor or counterpoint, began to pile up and distract me. I was often bewildered with the action and commotion of the faeries. Rather than surrendering to the story, I had a more cerebral and exhausting experience. I lost control of the narrative—or did Adrian?

I was taken with his scuttling energy and the peering furtive faces; I felt the oppressive weight of the shadowed victims. But I was also dizzy, blindfolded and drugged by too much screwball humor adjacent to tragedy, and the clarity I was seeking was etherized. Adrian’s prose is rich and layered with raucous, ribald wit and multiple motifs. It was eventually difficult to identify the core of the story. The fate of Molly, Will, and Henry was subverted by an anticlimactic ending amid black humor and zany twists of immortal madcap magic and erotic mayhem.

However, the story resonated with me at many turns. There is a bizarre and churlish glee to the prose and a willingness to take the reader to unknown zones of scary emotional wilderness. Despite the novel’s flabby focus, I shall inevitably look for more of this esteemed “20 under 40” writer’s works in the future. He captured me with his perversely baroque and insane merriment.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 1 readers
PUBLISHER: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (April 26, 2011)
REVIEWER: Betsey Van Horn
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Chris Adrian
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Not reviewed… but another take on Midnight Summer’s Dream:

Magic Street by Orson Scott Card

Some nod’s to Midsummer Night’s Dreams:

The Hound in the Left-Hand Corner by Giles Waterford

Welcome to Higby by Mark Dunn


April 26, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: California, Humorous, Speculative (Beyond Reality), Unique Narrative

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.