Chris Adrian is the definition of an overachiever. So far he’s produced three novels, a raft of short stories, all while studying towards a degree from the Harvard Divinity School and completing his residency as a pediatric oncologist. So, yes, he certainly has lofty goals. It’s understandable, therefore, he would attempt to push boundaries in his writing. He’s not always successful, but when he is it’s stupefying.
His last novel, The Great Night, is a revisiting of A Midsummer Night‘s Dream. The action has been moved to Buena Vista Park in San Francisco, and Oberon has left Titania. In his most recent attempt to please her, Oberon brought her a changeling boy. Titania, against her better judgement, loved the child as her own. The child becomes sick with cancer and , because she isn’t indifferent to him, Titania can’t wave away his illness. The devastating short story where Adrian lays out this scenario is the centerpiece of a novel that explores grief, and love, and being lost.
As the overlapping stories unfold they can become muddled. It’s almost better to approach the book as a collection of short stories which build to a complete tale, much in the way Bradbury’s books do. Each smaller piece is rich with beautiful, crystalline prose and evocative imagery. Each character is fully formed; from Molly, who struggles to understand her boyfriend’s suicide, to Henry, a doctor who recently broke up with his boyfriend, to Will, who’s been struggling with a mutually destructive relationship of his own. Each is connected to the other, and ultimately to the faerie world they find themselves trapped in. Ultimately, whether this all comes together has been a divisive issue. I felt Adrian was successful at weaving this complex world, that he uses beautiful imagery and at times dark comedy to alleviate the tragic elements. He creates a truly dreamlike world, where the logic doesn’t make a linear sense, but the emotional meaning is never in doubt. There are definitely people who will hate this book at least as much as I enjoyed it, a quick look at GoodReads or Amazon shows the novel has as many fans as it has detractors.
Separate from my love of this book, I always enjoy seeing a novel divide it’s readers. Adrian’s not going for safe here, he’s clearly going for something intense and moving. Adrian achieves what all great art should; he challenges the reader to react to his book, regardless of whether that means they love it or hate it. The Great Night is a bold novel, and I’m glad I re-read it for the Stainless Steel Droppings‘ Once Upon a Time VII.
As a housekeeping note, I will be putting up a review of The Company of Wolves also in conjunction with this particular reading/viewing challenge. The confluence of my son finishing school, prepping for Summer Camp, and the copious amounts of NyQuil I’ve been downing to cope with a mean flu kept me from writing something coherent on Angela Carter’s great short stories and Neil Jordan’s adaptation of them. It’s a shame as the Super Moon was the perfect time for stories about werewolves, hopefully whatever I write will still be fun when it finally comes out.