three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
53-July-Aug-2011
By: 
Chris Adrian
user_rating: 
0

missing imageSince Chris Adrian is a fellow in pediatric hematology-oncology at the University of California, San Francisco, and a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School, readers might well wonder how he found the time to pen two previous novels, Gob's Grief (2001) and The Children's Hospital (2006), as well as a collection of short stories. The Great Night is a contemporary retelling of Shakespeare's classic comedy, A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The Story: Things are not well in the kingdom of the fairies, hidden deep below Buena Vista Park in present-day San Francisco. Queen Titania, ill-equipped to deal with the realities of mortality, is inconsolable after losing her changeling son, Boy, to leukemia, and her consort, Oberon, to the wider human world. On Midsummer Eve, her desperation will unleash an ancient, monstrous evil that threatens to annihilate her entire kingdom, including three hapless humans taking an untimely shortcut through the park: Henry, a pediatric oncologist recently dumped by his lover; Molly, still reeling from the suicide of her boyfriend; and Will, whose thoughtless infidelity may have cost him the love of his life.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 304 pages. $26. ISBN: 9780374166410

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"He has an exceptional knack for imbuing even his most impossible and implausible creations--such as the Beastie, a living, puppy-dog-like blanket that is Boy's pet--with powerful and believable emotion. ... The Great Night is a fairy tale--and a fun and funny one at that, perhaps Adrian's most enjoyable book." Craig Morgan Teicher

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Himself a pediatric oncologist, Adrian has always written with depth and compassion about grief, but I can't recall anything in his two prior novels or collection of stories that matches the chapters in Night describing what it's like to be a mother experiencing the loss of a child. ... Titania's dilemma is an extreme version of the one confronting all of the novel's characters and each of us: Why risk loving or living when we know that we and our loved ones will die?" Mike Fischer

St. Petersburg Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Adrian is particularly adept at capturing his characters' pain and grief; his description of the Boy's death is simply heartbreaking. ... Adrian writes wonderful scenes of enchantment--trees of gold and silver, a creature with a human head and rabbit's feet and a furry bunny bottom, the Boy's hospital room magically filled with piles of whole cheeses and loaves of bread after he asks for a grilled cheese sandwich--and equally vivid scenes anchored in the real world." Colette Bancroft

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Ironically, The Great Night felt most magical to me when Adrian focuses on the mortals' pasts and Titania's profoundly human grief. ... The novel is less successful when the mortals are trapped in the park and under the spells of ... the faeries. ... Nevertheless, Adrian once again left me feeling both meditative and moved." Chris Bohjalian

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"A graduate student at the Harvard Divinity School and a fellow in pediatric hematology-oncology at the University of California San Francisco, he clearly knows the sorrow of the human comedy and what fools we mortals be. Brush aside your Shakespeare, and you will find the same in The Great Night." Keith Donohue

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"[The hospital scenes are] a winningly saucy piece of work, mixing Neil Gaiman-style fabulism and the wry tragicomedy of Lorrie Moore. ... Ultimately, however, the magical math of The Great Night just doesn't add up." Laura Miller

Los Angeles Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The further we get into the book, the more it begins to seem oddly bifurcated, with Adrian pulling out of the present action--the trio's misadventures in the faerie kingdom and their efforts to get home--to offer extended bits of flashback with the result that The Great Night never quite achieves a fully realized narrative flow. To be fair, this is part of the novel's design, which only reveals the depth of its interweaving once we're done. ... Still, without a sense of peril, of real and present danger, the structure adds up to something of a hollow architecture." David L. Ulin

Critical Summary

The Great Night, much darker in tone than the comic masterpiece on which it is based, throbs with heartache and lost love as it poignantly explores the ground where life and death intersect, and Adrian is particularly adept at capturing grief in all its gut-wrenching detail. However, the critics had misgivings about the novel's disjointed story line and uneasy mix of fantasy with realism. "You can't reveal the man behind the curtain--or the bereft real mother inside the fairy queen--and then close the draperies and expect everyone to go on believing in the great and powerful Oz" (New York Times Book Review). Readers who can dispense with the novel's Shakespearean references and read The Great Night for its own merits will probably enjoy it most.