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minireview: Chris Adrian’s The Great Night

October 27, 2011

The Great Night
I pulled this book off the library shelf quite at random, and I am sincerely glad I did. Loosely based on Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream, Chris Adrian’s The Great Night is a phantasmagoric, feverish tale of three heartbroken people who stumble into a San Francisco park and quickly become entangled in the sordid intrigues of the resident faerie population.

The plot moves forward by telling the same story from various perspectives, pieces falling quietly into place as we get to know each character. This is an engaging approach that gives the reader many “aha” moments, but I have to say that I grew somewhat weary of it by the end, as the plot crept along at the same ponderous pace when I personally would have prefered a brisker tempo for the conclusion.

The tone is simultaneously optimistic and jaded, relatable and yet abstract. What I found most interesting about The Great Night is that is essentially an exercise in shoehorning the cast and elements of a comedy into the framework of a tragic drama — no easy task. Adrian really gets inside the heads of his characters, gradually peeling back the whimsical layers to reveal an overwhelming, weighty sadness.

Speaking of characters: Puck. Oh goodness. Adrian’s interpretation of the chaotic trickster is easily the best thing about this book. Styled as the villain, Puck is essentially a cross between a boggart (à la Harry Potter) and Coyote from Gunnerkrigg Court. He may have been inspired by the kumiho, a malicious, shapeshifting fox of Korean mythology — but that is purely speculation on my part. Adrian’s Puck is both terrifying and piteous, and I found myself wishing Adrian would write a sequel (or a graphic novel) focussed on this character. The book gives us plenty of reasons to sympathize with Puck but does not stoop to any kind of patronizing redemption plot, which leaves the reader wanting to know more about him.

Overall, The Great Night is an excellent book — but is probably not to everyone’s taste. Shakespearian purists and those who prefer realism should stay away, but as I fit into neither category, this book was a delight for me, artfully executed and beautifully sad.

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