Every now and then I take a trip to Barnes and Noble (despite the fact that I work at a bookstore and get a discount at said bookstore) to pick up a little sumpin’ sumpin’ special. Something my store wouldn’t normally carry. On my last trip I discovered The Great Night, and I was a little devastated to find it. A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been my favorite play since elementary school when I unwittingly ordered it through my Scholastic book order, not realizing it was a play written in what seemed like a different language. Nonetheless, it was filled with fairies and magic, therefore I loved it.
Sometime during my freshman year of college I decided I was going to write a novel, that novel was/is going to be based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Imagine my disappointment when I picked up The Great Night and discovered that Chris Adrian had had the same idea and he had written it first. (Insert life lesson about procrastination). Anyway, I still wanted to read it and I had a 20% off coupon* so I put my jealousy aside and bought it.
*The above mentioned coupon actually didn’t work and I ended up paying full price. After reading it, I somewhat wish the coupon had worked.
The Great Night by Chris Adrian
This was not a bad book but I also would not label it as a great book (see what I did there). It was far from anything I expected… in fact you might enjoy it more if you put Shakespeare entirely out of your mind before you attempt to read it. The story follows six or seven characters as they make their way into San Francisco’s Buena Vista Park on Midsummer Eve. Three of the characters are making their way through the park to a party on the other side, but as the book progresses it is revealed that they are really running/hiding from the failures of past relationships. The remaining characters are a group of homeless folk who have gathered in the park to rehearse a play they plan to put on for the Mayor, whom they hate… for some reason.
The author delves deep into the lives of each character; how their now broken relationships initially formed, their flaws and downfalls that eventually brought the relationship to an end, and how they found themselves wandering endlessly through Buena Vista Park on Midsummer Eve. The park, of course, is the secret home of Titania and her fairy court. Titania, like the humans who have unknowingly wandered into her kingdom, is experiencing a loss of her own. A loss so devastating she does something incredibly rash and dangerous, unleashing a monster who plans to end the world as we know it.
While I believe this book is well written I do wish it was organized a little differently. The author skips back and forth between characters, delving deep into their individual lives (which are closely yet subtly linked), and it was difficult to keep track of who did what. There were also more than a few strange, sexual scenes that created some dissonance within the book as a whole… in my opinion. At times the characters randomly break into masturbation sessions or threesomes for no apparent reason. It’s surprising in a not so good way. Less than half of the book actually takes place in the park, which kept me reading only because I was looking forward to the rare chapters that did. Titania’s kingdom is very well imagined and I constantly wished I could see more of it. The ending left me feeling unresolved… and I hate that.
However, I did not dislike this book because it didn’t match my expectations. When I stopped thinking of it as a fantasy novel and started thinking of it as a character drama, I began to like it more and more. Their individual stories are all very human and heartbreaking, and the author ties them together in a way that’s almost indiscernible. I want to go back and create some sort of character map so I can see how subtly their lives are linked. Also, while this novel did not contain as much magic as I had hoped for, the magic it did contain was done very well. For example; at one point the “man in the moon” goes from laughing to frowning, a slight change only noticed by those who knew what to look for (the fairies) but discernable to all characters. It was subtle and quite Shakespearean. The ending was very dreamlike (true to the original play) and overall well done… despite my hatred of non-resolutions. While I didn’t love this book I am glad I read it and even more glad that I can still write my Shakespeare inspired novel without resentment.