“He fell backward, as if through a mile of air or a lifetime, to land on the soft grass with a noise like his name [Huff], feeling like he was saying his name properly for the first time because he knew who he was and what he was all about and what he really wanted, which was precisely this. He had nothing left, not will or energy or expertise, with which to venture from the bush and offer to his friends and co-conspirators, though he heard them rehearsing the last song ensemble and unsupervised: People, they sang. People who eat people are the loneliest people in the world!” - Chris Adrian, The Great Night (334-335)
If you know me at all, you know that I am a Shakespeare fan. This novel is a clever retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which three young people, Molly, Henry, and Will, become lost in present-day San Francisco Buena Vista Park on Midsummer’s Eve. Unbeknownst to them, it is the secret home of a faerie kingdom, where Oberon and Titania (recognize the names?) reign as king and queen.
On this night, the anniversary of Titania having locked up the treacherous Beast, the faerie queen’s sorrow over the loss of her son has driven her over the edge, and she releases her control over the trickster Puck. The lonely Molly, Henry, and Will are caught up in the mayhem of the faeries’ Midsummer celebration and the impending doom of the kingdom, as the Beast approaches.
Author Chris Adrian slowly reveals the heart-breaking events of the three young adults’ lives and weaves the wrenching emotion of Titania’s loss with the chaos of the goofy midget faeries, who are continuing their preparation for the Midsummer celebration despite their awareness that each and every creature in the park will be dead by the end of the night. Adrian's elegant language brings a strange kind of charm to the story, sprinkling magic onto each page, as well as allusions to works with similar themes, most notably the film Soylent Green. Though there are dozens of characters, from the four main ones to the hectic faeries of the court to those who populate Molly, Henry, and Will’s backstory, each and every one plays a significant role in developing the story, and each deliver emotional force on every page.
Audacious, hilarious, and moving, The Great Night is a magically imaginative work that delivers a profound message about living and loving in the face of imminent death, something of which we all experience. As soon as I finished the last page, I immediately flipped back to the beginning and started reading it again.