“The Great Night”—A Great Read

The Great Night by Chris Adrian was recently recommended to me, and what a wonderful suggestion it turned out to be! A modern retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it takes place in San Francisco on Midsummer’s Eve 2008 when three mortals—two men and one woman, all strangers to each other but connected in surprising ways by their pasts—become lost in a park on their way to a party being held by the improbably named Jordan Sasscock. Titania and her court of fairies are holding their annual celebration in the park that night, and a small, disjointed group of homeless men and women are rehearsing a musical version of Soylent Green.

The story of each of the main characters is told with such love, sympathy, and honesty, with all of the sorrow and guilt and failure, beauty and love that both mortals and immortals are capable of. There is the character who is distinguished by a great capacity for suffering. There is a mortal Titania plans to take as a lover for a single night—an act which would have destroyed him—until she discovers that he was worthy of being loved. Even the monster cries what seem to be genuine tears. I fell in love with these characters. I wanted more, more, more of them. I’m greedy that way. And more kept coming.

Almost every chapter can stand alone, a story unto itself, but as they move from the present to the past and change points of view, the entire story begins to fall into place. As I was reading, my worst fear was that I would be dissatisfied in the end because the book felt like it was moving towards something incredible, and I was finding it hard to believe that, as a whole, it could have any conclusion as captivating as the individual stories within it. And yet, it worked. I was entirely satisfied. Everything happened as it must, fell into place, made sense. Loose ends all tied up in ways that I wouldn’t have foreseen but which, in retrospect, could only have been inevitable.

My only regret is that we never got to meet Jordan Sasscock. I’m thinking that the name of this character who doesn’t even appear is a great symbol of the entire book. Funny, absurd, horrible. It represents a person and an the idea of a person. But I can’t decide if that makes it all too likely or completely unrealistic. I suppose that’s just it, though. Fairies and monsters, mysterious trees and parallel worlds are unlikely. But all the heightened emotions their existence produces, the ways they knowingly and unknowingly might impact human lives, makes for an intensely true story. Almost everything that happens to the humans in this book could happen in the “real world,” without fantastical explanations, but maybe the impact would be less? It’s why, I suppose, I love and read fantasy. It strips away all the familiar details of the world we know and emphasizes just the truths of the lives we live and the way we live them.

The Great Night feels to me like a nearly miraculous meshing of worlds and stories, and I’ll be thinking about it for a while.