Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Compared to his ambitious, Pulitzer Prize-winning Martin Dressler, Millhauser's new novella may seem slight, but it has a resonance and fairy tale allure that belie its slim page count. Set on a sultry summer night when an almost-full moon hovers over Southern Connecticut, the book follows a handful of small-town characters who yearn for anonymity, recognition, love or escape. Laura Engstrom, 14, seeks a solitary release from the deep restlessness that makes "her bones itch." Haverstraw, 39, lives with his mother while he works on a novel and despairs of ever achieving anything with his life. Janet Manning, 20, longs for the appearance of a "heartbreaker" she met on the beach that afternoon. A drunken romantic, William Cooper, 28, gazes into storefront displays, hoping for love and a lucky break. An old woman who lives alone yearns for company. He gracefully intertwines these lives and others with magical elements--a mannequin that comes alive, a chorus of "night voices," a silent visit from a moon goddess--to create a trance world suffused with luminescence and longing, where each character verges on the brink of fulfillment or collapse. Millhauser sketches each person's plight in a few skillful lines and repeats gestures and thoughts so their variations resound on many levels. A set of abandoned dolls, for example, awaken and pantomime a sorrowful romance that echoes Janet's desire for her young lover, Haverstraw's long-standing friendship with a friend's mother and Coop's abstracted love for the mannequin. Only a scattering of facile nursery-rhyme type of songs echo hollowly in Millhauser's elegant, penetrating tale. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
On a sizzling summer night, a young girl leaves her house and wanders through a Connecticut town under a big bright moon, like a flower escaping the conservatory. One side of the moon looks a "little flat and smudged, as if someone had rubbed it with a thumb." Is it this not-quite fullness that causes the inhabitants of the town to wake and wander, or is it the faint sound of the piper in the wooded hill outside the town? During the few hours surrounding midnight, Laura, the teenage girl, is followed by a man in "shiny black hair" and rescued by a despairing middle-aged writer who lives with his mother (shades of Peter Kennedy O'Toole). A group of female housebreakers who call themselves the "Summer Storm" break in on an elderly woman who, much to their chagrin, doesn't seem alarmed. Long-forgotten dolls packed away in an attic come alive and all over town children wake, stir and follow the sound of the piper in the woods. An elegant mannequin in a shop window sheds her closely controlled reserve and entices a beery man who stops to admire her. An infatuated woman waits (in vain?) for the man she desires. The author combines an intricate plot and rich language to tell a fairy story set in the here and now. The writing is precise and poetic. The chapters are short, sometimes less than a page; these blank expanses, so rare in a book, allow for imagination to build on the lovely prose. The town appears like a vast Christmas tree garden and comes alive for the enchanted reader. KLIATT Codes: SARecommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1999, Random House/Vintage, 130p, 21cm, 99-25517, $11.00. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Penelope Power; Libn.,Garrison Forest Sch., Garrison, MD, March 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 2)
In Millhauser's Pulitzer Prize-winning Martin Dressler, the author re-created the teeming and substantial world of 19th-century New York before lifting readers off into the fantasy concoctions inside Dressler's great hotel. His newest novel, however, is as insubstantial as the moonlight that dominates the mystical August night of the title. At a mere 113 pages--and some pages consisting of only a line or two--this wisp of a story traces surreal late-night happenings in a southern Connecticut town: teenage girls break into houses, boys raid the public library, a man stalks a young woman, a store mannequin comes to life, as do dolls in an attic, children wander into the woods, a goddess appears. In some cases, individuals encounter each other, but to no effect; day breaks and nothing really changes. Throughout, Millhauser's descriptions are so perfect and the details of his images so precise that the town itself becomes real. We see the moonlight reflecting on parking meters and the litter between the buildings, but again, it doesn't matter; it's just a backdrop. One wishes Millhauser had created more with his exquisite prose than this little confection. For larger fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/99.]--Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Lib., Harrisonburg, VA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Through this series of related vignettes, Milhauser manages to capture the essence of a summer night, at once intensely specific of our own America and suffused with myth and mystery, as that window display mannequin finds a human companion, the goddess/essence of the moon comes down to discover her own human lover, and assorted loners and losers feel the transforming power of this special late night, even if one initially characterizes it in these irreverent terms, searching for "a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and fourty thou" but finding something quite different. Another man, confronted with a dream that's come to life, walks with a creature "like a visitor from some unknown placedeeper than dream, more dangerous than desire...."
...Enchanted Night manages to transform the mundane, in this case a small New England town by night in summer, into the stuff of miracles, passing magics, and a uniquely American eloquence. Don't let Millhauser's special talent pass you by.
Writing in tableaux as concise as magic spells--as short as a paragraph or two or merely long enough to record the song of the field insects--Millhauser is at his poetic best. Enchanted Night is as much dramatic lyric as novella, as fit to be read aloud, in a theater or in a bed, as The Pied Piper or Under Milk Wood. The sub-lunar lunacy that is the natural state of all fairy tales is Millhauser's passport to pipe all of us children past the nightmares of adolescence, of love, of loneliness, to play us gentle into that good, enchanted night.
Entertainment Weekly Editors
Milhauser is a cross between the Peter Pan and P.T. Barnum of contemporary American fiction. His books are like fairy tales and faintly remembered childhood dreams.
In Millhauser's skilled hands, the repetitive pattern of garden hoses, swing sets, and lawn mowers becomes as hypnotizing as the design of a mosque ceiling, leading us not towards violence but toward the sublime.
A compact, deftly constructed novella that traces with wry precision the interrelationships among a Connecticut townful of midsummer night's dreamers on a humid and mystery-laden evening "when the almost full moon wakens sleepers in their beds." Fourteen-year-old Laura Engstrom leaves her bed and drowsily wanders her neighborhood, the unsuspecting cynosure of adult admiring eyes. Haverstraw, a frustrated middle-aged writer, keeps his regular late-night assignation with the older woman who is his unlikely intellectual companion. Lonely Janet Manning fantasizes a handsome lover's reappearance. A "girl gang" of teenagers who break into houses and commit acts of innocuous vandalism are in fact welcomed in by "the woman who lives alone." Natural laws are suspended: an aroused "moon goddess" hungrily takes the virginity of a sleeping boy; toys and dolls come to life, including a department store mannequin who's adored by a drunken loner, and the mismatched commedia dell'arte puppets Columbine and Pierrot. The considerable pleasure bestowed by this slim tale lies in the delicate recombinations of these and other figures, and in Millhauser's ingenuity in uniting, then, parting, Meanwhile, a lyrical narrative overvoice summarizes the night's events with memorable images ("the moon is a white blossom in a blue garden") and resonant phrasing ("the lovely summer life of yards"). And a wonderfully moving coda in effect blesses the story's several "characters" as they variously awaken from, or imperfectly recall, their enchanted evening. Some will find all this insufferably fey; readers who don't will be richly, magically rewarded. Millhauser (The Knife Thrower, 1998, etc.) is a stylist andvisionary whose fiction dances on the very edge of preciosity without ever falling into it. He's also that greater rarity in American fiction: the writer who keeps getting better and better.
From the Publisher
"Moonlit, entrancing. . . . [Millhauser is] master of a prose that doesn't merely aspire to the condition of music but actually achieves it." Michael Dirda, The Washington Post Book World
"Writing in tableaux as concise as magic spells . . . Millhauser is at his poetic best." Los Angeles Times
"Lovely . . . a mini-opera. . . . the collective dramas that make up [Enchanted Night] are strikingly aural, visual and emblematic. . . . [Millhauser's] prose remains consistently sensual and rhythmic, alive with color." Newsday
"Enchanted Night feels teeming, complete and note perfect." Chicago Tribune
Read an Excerpt
A hot summer night in southern Connecticut, tide going out and the moon still rising. Laura Engstrom, fourteen years old, sits up in bed and throws the covers off. Her forehead is damp, her hair feels wet. Through the screens of the two half-open windows she can hear a rasp of crickets and a dim rush of traffic on the distant thruway. Five past twelve. Do you know where your children are? The room is so hot that the heat is a hand gripping her throat. Got to move, got to do something. Moonlight is streaming in past the edges of the closed and slightly raised venetian blinds. She can't breathe in this room, in this house. Oh man, do something. Do it. The crickets are growing louder. A smell of cut grass mixes with a salt tang of low tide from the beach four blocks away. She imagines herself out there, on the night beach, low waves breaking, crunch of sand, the lifeguard chairs tall and white and clean under the moon, but the thought disturbs her--she feels exposed, a girl in moonlight, out in the open, spied on. She doesn't want anyone to look at her. No one is allowed to think about her body. But she can't stay in her room, oh no. If she doesn't do something right away, this second, she'll scream. The inside of her skin itches. Her bones itch. So how do you scratch your bones? Laura steps onto the braided throw rug beside her bed and pulls on her jeans. They are so tight that she has to suck in her flat stomach to get the hole over the copper button. She pulls off her nightgown and puts on a white T-shirt--no bra--and a denim jacket with a lump in one pocket: half a roll of Life Savers. She has to get out of there, she has to breathe. If you don't breathe, you're dead. The room is killing her. She won't go far.
CHORUS OF NIGHT VOICES
This is the night of revelation. This is the night the dolls wake. This is the night of the dreamer in the attic. This is the night of the piper in the woods.
THE MAN IN THE ATTIC
At exactly midnight by his strapless watch, Haverstraw puts down his No. 2 hexagonal yellow pencil beside his spiral-bound notebook, which he leaves open on the desk, and leans back in his chair. For a moment he feels dizzy, and grips the edge of the desk; it is hot in the attic room, and the air feels stale and close, despite the twenty-year-old rattling window fan that is supposed to draw the hot air out and somehow leave coolness in its wake. The attic room, lined with bookshelves, is above the second floor of the house, where his mother has her bedroom. Haverstraw's bedroom is also on the second floor, but he prefers to sleep in the old guest-bed in the attic study. The mattress sags, his feet stick over the end, and the room is poorly heated in winter, but Haverstraw does not seek comfort. Haverstraw is thirty-nine years old and lives with his sixty-six-year-old mother. For the last nine years he has been at work on an immense project, an experiment in memory, which will justify him. Tonight the writing has gone well, or at least not badly, though perhaps his ideas have carried him a little astray; he has the sudden sense that the whole project is astray, his whole life astray, but the thought is so terrifying that he quickly suppresses it. He must get out and walk in the night. His waking hours are divided into three segments: from one in the afternoon to six at night he gets through the day, from seven to midnight he writes, and from midnight to five in the morning he gets through the night. He sleeps from five in the morning to one in the afternoon. Dinner with his mother is from six to seven--always. His work will justify him. People will understand. He will be redeemed. Remember old Haverstraw? Guy who lived in the attic? Well! Seems that he. Turns out he. Haverstraw needs to get outside and walk. He turns off the bent-neck standing lamp, pushes back his chair--an old kitchen chair with a pillow on the seat--and stands up, wondering whether his little attacks of dizziness are something he ought to worry about. After all, he's a man almost forty, a man stuck in a bog. His back hurts. His eyes burn. His life hurts. He will be justified. He picks up his watch without a strap and thrusts it into his pocket. Haverstraw crosses the room, switches off the overhead light, and makes his way through the unfinished part of the attic, filled with the abandoned games of his adolescence, the stuffed animals of his childhood. He never throws anything out. Somewhere in a shoebox are all the little prizes from the cereal boxes of thirty years ago, still in their transparent crinkly plastic wrappers. In a drawer of the old dresser sit piles of old bubblegum cards no one has ever heard of: science-fiction cards, movie-star cards, fire-engine cards. He still has his old patrol-boy badge on its white strap, his old paper targets full of BB holes. He ought to clear out all this junk, but it would be like throwing away his childhood. Haverstraw tiptoes down the wooden steps of the attic and makes his way in the dark along the second-floor hall, past his sleeping mother--he can hear her breathing--and down the carpeted stairs. On the dark landing he passes a black, invisible picture: Hokusai's Great Wave. In his mind he sees vividly the little yellow boats, the little white heads, the towering waves that frightened him as a child, and far away the wave-like top of Mount Fuji. He continues down the carpeted stairs to the front hall. From a hook on the wobbly clothestree he removes his blue nylon windbreaker. He opens the front door quietly, for his mother is a light sleeper. When he steps outside he sees, high up in the dark blue sky, the big white summer moon. His heart lifts. The night will forgive him.
From the Hardcover edition.