The Great Night [NOOK Book]

Overview


Acclaimed as a “gifted, courageous writer”(The New York Times), Chris Adrian brings all his extraordinary talents to bear in The Great Night—a brilliant and mesmerizing retelling of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

On Midsummer Eve 2008, three people, each on the run from a failed relationship, become trapped in San Francisco’s Buena Vista Park, the secret home of Titania, Oberon, and their court. On this night, something awful is happening in the faerie kingdom: in a...

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The Great Night

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Overview


Acclaimed as a “gifted, courageous writer”(The New York Times), Chris Adrian brings all his extraordinary talents to bear in The Great Night—a brilliant and mesmerizing retelling of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

On Midsummer Eve 2008, three people, each on the run from a failed relationship, become trapped in San Francisco’s Buena Vista Park, the secret home of Titania, Oberon, and their court. On this night, something awful is happening in the faerie kingdom: in a fit of sadness over the end of her marriage, which broke up in the wake of the death of her adopted son, Titania has set loose an ancient menace, and the chaos that ensues will threaten the lives of immortals and mortals alike.

Selected by The New Yorker as one the best young writers in America, Adrian has created a singularly playful, heartbreaking, and humorous novel—a story that charts the borders between reality and dreams, love and magic, and mortality and immortality.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Adrian follows his masterful The Children's Hospital with a disappointing and decidedly less ambitious effort, a flabby retelling of A Midsummer Night's Dream that finds a heartbroken Titania loosening a demonic Puck on San Francisco's Buena Vista Park. Caught up in the mayhem are Henry, a neurotic gay man whose affair has just ended; Molly, a young woman turned inward after the suicide of her boyfriend; Will, a lovelorn tree doctor trying to get his lady back; and a group staging a musical remake of Soylent Green to explain the decline of San Francisco's homeless population. Adrian liberally applies surreal sex jokes and populates his adventure with bizarre fairies, impossible events, and extensive backstories, but this investigation into love's labors never ignites. Adrian occasionally channels the wayward, winsome feel of millennial San Francisco, but his characters remains wispy and his plot fails to develop satisfying turns. The book contains flashes of what makes this writer great, but he has better work in him. (May)
From the Publisher
“Adrian is such a forceful, potent writer that this non-realistic world commands its own searing, tangible realism on the page. For this isn't only a novel about magic and faeries, it's a novel about grief and loss and heartbreak . . . If you're willing to enter something magical, something dazzling and heartbreaking, then Adrian is a writer for you.” — Patrick Ness, The Guardian

 

“. . . An enthralling nightmare. . . With the lusty, darkly comic finish comes an urge to wash one’s hands while applauding; Adrian has twisted a romantic folly into a incredibly depraved orgy. Those who don’t see the smut in Shakespeare might be shocked, but the Bard himself would likely be proud to see the bodily fluids spilled across one of his most beloved classics.”— Josh Davis, Time Out New York

 

“Chris Adrian’s novels puff you full of delight, then rips your heart out. Adrian's a sadist, maybe. Or maybe he's got the biggest heart of any living writer, so big that it can hold the sweetest thoughts alongside shame and also death — real death, in all its devastation and splendor.”—Eugenia Williamson, The Boston Phoenix

“Magical. . . Adrian. . . uses Shakespeare’s comedy not for a virtuosic display of stylistic mimicry but as a vessel to help him access and contain the amazingly bountiful, sparkling ‘jewels from the deep’ (as the Bard called them) of his rich imagination.”—Heller McAlpin, National Public Radio

“A wild ride—I found [The Great Night] almost viscerally thrilling, especially the experience of moving through [Adrian’s] prose as it crackles and purrs . . . the most brilliant and profound reimagining in Adrian’s vision isn’t the way he magics the humans but the way he humanifies Shakespeare’s fairies . . . Reading The Great Night was an extraordinary experience. When I finished it, I started it over again.”—Alexandra Mullen, The Barnes and Noble Review

“Adrian has demonstrated a vast imagination in his earlier books, particularly The Children’s Hospital, a tale of doctors and patients and angels (yes, angels) in a post-apocalyptic hospital that has become the world’s new ark. He is a fellow in pediatric hematology-oncology and a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School, and his work indeed suggests a profound interest in where life meets death and how we make sense of that great undiscovered country . . . The Great Night is no exception . . . Adrian once again left me feeling both meditative and moved.”—Chris Bohjalian, The Boston Globe

“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 that chapters in [The Great Night] describing what it’s like to be a mother experiencing the loss of a child . . . Rather than Pyramus and Thisbe, we’re treated to a musical version of “Soylent Green,” the 1973 dystopian thriller starring Charlton Heston, in which there isn’t enough to eat, and the Soylent Corp. makes its money by secretly turning people into food. The humor is—well—delicious. But it also makes a joyous, life-affirming point, echoing Shakespeare’s own insistence that lovers must eventually return to everyday life in Athens.”—Mike Fischer, The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

“[Adrian] can pack more depth of understanding about what makes a human human into a single page than many novelists wedge into entire books. More than perhaps any author today, he understands people. His characters, whether men or pixies, are us . . . In fact, the scariest and most surprising thing about The Great Night is that it’s proof that some lives and conditions and heartbreaks and losses and joys are so bewildering, they can only be understood as myths.”—Tyler Cabot, Esquire

 

“Adrian. . . covered smaller, more controlled canvases in his previous works—Gob’s Grief and The Children’s Hospital, and the story collection A Better Angel. The Great Night—by turns brilliant, cruel, tenderhearted, visionary, poetic, and profane—is Adrian’s ambitious attempt to fetch from his own imagination what Shakespeare referred to as ‘jewels from the deep.’”—Lisa Shea, Elle

 

“William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night's Dream deals with illusion—in particular, the illusion that things can be set aright, as if by magic. This riff by New Yorker 20 Under 40 author Adrian (A Better Angel) is a whole lot darker, declaring that no magic can take away the memory of suffering and that in our self-serving scramble we disdain the pain (and indeed the goodness) of others. On the summer solstice in San Francisco, the fairies come out from under their hill in Buena Vista Park to celebrate Great Night. But this year there will be no celebration, for Oberon has vanished and Titania is thoroughly undone by the death of her Boy, one of the many changelings brought to her by Puck—no mischievous sprite but a malevolent spirit. Even as a rowdy bunch rehearse a play aimed at exposing the mayor's crimes against the homeless, three people are trapped in the park by the fairies’ madness: uptight Molly, lovesick Will, and gentle, obsessed Henry, who still misses decamped lover Bobby and whose tragic past and connections to other characters unfold tantalizingly. Verdict: Inventive and scarily beautiful, this could wipe out casual readers, but it is an extraordinary novel.”—Library Journal (starred review)

Library Journal
William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream deals with illusion—in particular, the illusion that things can be set aright, as if by magic. This riff by New Yorker 20 Under 40 author Adrian (A Better Angel) is a whole lot darker, declaring that no magic can take away the memory of suffering and that in our self-serving scramble we disdain the pain (and indeed the goodness) of others. On the summer solstice in San Francisco, the fairies come out from under their hill in Buena Vista Park to celebrate Great Night. But this year there will be no celebration, for Oberon has vanished and Titania is thoroughly undone by the death of her Boy, one of the many changelings brought to her by Puck—no mischievous sprite but a malevolent spirit. Even as a rowdy bunch rehearse a play aimed at exposing the mayor's crimes against the homeless, three people are trapped in the park by the fairies' madness: uptight Molly, lovesick Will, and gentle, obsessed Henry, who still misses decamped lover Bobby and whose tragic past and connections to other characters unfold tantalizingly. VERDICT Inventive and scarily beautiful, this could wipe out casual readers, but it is an extraordinary novel. [See Prepub Alert, 11/8/10.]—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
Library Journal
I could be highlighting this latest from Adrian because The New Yorker recently included him among America's top young writers in its "20 Under 40" feature. But in fact I'm doing it mostly because I'm entranced by the plot: a fresh and wild retelling of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's midsummer eve 2008 in San Francisco's Buena Vista Park, where Titania, Oberon, and the other faerie folk now reside in exile. Her adopted son dead, a grief-stricken Titania releases terrible forces upon the world—not good news for three mortals trapped in the park and inside the memories of a loved one whom each had lost or forsaken. Meanwhile, a homeless man wants to depose the city's evil mayor by staging a musical version of Soylent Green. Decidedly darker and crazier than Shakespeare's play, this should appeal to literary types of all stripes.
Kirkus Reviews

Imagine a mashup of J.M. Barrie and Armistead Maupin, and you'll sense the disorienting weirdness of this third novel from Adrian (The Children's Hospital, 2006, etc.).

Buena Vista Park in San Francisco is hilly, wooded and just big enough to get lost in. That's what happens to three strangers making their separate ways to a party they'll never reach. Henry, Will and Molly are linked by more than having lost their way. These lonelyhearts, all three damaged by unhappy childhoods, have also lost their significant others. And they are mortals, unlike the faeries living under the hill who, presto change-o, we meet next. Their world too is newly shaped by loss. Titania, their Queen (ring any bells?), has lost her Boy, the changeling she doted on, to leukemia. And she may have lost the King, Oberon, who has disappeared after Titania's disavowal of her love for him.Unwisely, she frees Puck (aka the Beast) from his 1,000-year bondage, panicking the faerie world. The Beast is at large! Flee! That's the extent of the plot. The mortals live for us through flashbacks. Henry was once a changeling himself, under the hill; so was Molly's boyfriend Ryan who, plagued by dim memories, hanged himself. The mortals enter the hill; Molly sees Ryan's portrait in a gallery (Barrie's Lost Boys). Henry and Ryan were abducted twice, the second time by a mortal predator. Henry, now gay, became a pediatrician; Titania's Boy was his patient, the Queen beside his bed disguised as a mortal. She can change into anything at any time, and that's a problem. There is no terra firma. For the reader, the experience is like walking backward through quicksand. In his previous work, Adrian did a better job of balancing loss and death with fantasy and the supernatural. Here there is careful patterning but no unifying sensibility.

How could such a talented writer be led so astray? Blame the bad faerie Self-Indulgence.

The Barnes & Noble Review

Recently, after reading an essay on two very obscure English war poets by Anthony Daniels, a former prison doctor and, among other things, a literary critic of unusual sensibility, I was driving along my suburban mother commute and playing a sort of solitaire mental parlor game: a list of famous fiction writers who were also doctors -- I had Rabelais, Maugham, Conan Doyle, Chekhov, Celine. Later it occurred to me to check Wikipedia, and sure enough there's a very helpful entry for "Physician writer." I'd forgotten Smollett and Bulgakov and William Carlos Williams (a bit embarrassing there); some were a bit of a stretch (Keats and de Musset? Do med-school dropouts count?) -- but I was startled to see no mention of one of the most notable recent physician novelists, Chris Adrian.

Chris Adrian is a pediatric oncologist -- treating children with cancer -- and his specialty is very evident in all his work, beginning with his first novel, The Children's Hospital: matters of life and death, especially death too early in life, and the hallucinatory visions born of sleeplessness from panicky parents and frustrated doctors. Other parts of Adrian's life -- including the death of his older brother in a car accident, his airline pilot father and alcoholic mother, his studies in divinity school -- also recur in his work. Oh, and he's on record as really liking stories with magic ponies in them.

In The Great Night, Adrian's retelling of Midsummer Night's Dream in Buena Vista Park in San Francisco, we have the seeds of a familiar story: a quarrel between Oberon and Titania over a mortal boy, hapless lovelorn mortals wandering willy-nilly, some rude mechanicals putting on a play, Titania's strange passion for a grotesque. As these facts pass through his imagination, they turn into something rich and strange: surreal, contemplative, ornate, and crude. His urban forest, lush and rank, is inhabited by all kinds of hybrids: brokenhearted heterosexuals and homosexuals, fairyfolk and homeless people, walking phalluses and flying vaginas, stray dogs, wild boys, Puck on the loose, bicycles, and even a magic pony.

It's a wild ride -- I found it almost viscerally thrilling, especially the experience of moving through his prose as it crackles and purrs. But while I don't at all intend to disparage the book's imaginative acrobatics and arabesques by saying this, the most brilliant and profound reimagining in Adrian's vision isn't the way he magics the humans but the way he humanifies Shakespeare's fairies.

It's your basic immortal dilemma. Whether Greek god or English fairy, if you live outside the constraints of time, you face no worries about life and death, perhaps no moral questions at all. Perhaps, for immortals, change -- permanent change, not merely the passing of one entertainment for another -- is the final novelty? Having change happen to you, say, by falling into love, is a human experience new to Titania. But it happens to her through Oberon's present of a small human boy:

The child grew, and changed, and became ever more delightful to her, and she imagined that they could go on forever like that. . . . Maybe it would have been better if he had stayed her favorite thing -- a toy and not a son. . . . But one evening the boy ran back to her, and climbed upon her throne, and put his face to her breast, and sighed a word at her, molly or moony or middlebury -- she still didn't know what it was exactly. But it was close enough to mommy to ruin everything.

Wedded to love is death. Adrian's Oberon and Titania and their beloved boy end up in a leukemia ward with Doctors Beadle and Blork. There the fairies run against the intransigence of nature for humans: you want change but can't do anything about it. It would have been easy if the boy had merely been a "broken toy," but, as Titania discovers, human love of whatever variety is a terrible enchantment.

Titania's love for her boy changes her perception of what is available to her -- and what is not: "The mortals all looked equally boring to her, equally plain, and equal wastes of her time. She had never thought before of anything as a waste of time; she had an eternity of time to spend and could afford to be profligate with it." Her love might, ultimately, lead her to a realization plenty difficult for humans too; that other people besides yourself, people perhaps plain, or old, or poor, or clumsy, feel deep love and howl for its loss.

Oberon is a fainter character -- as is the intriguingly named but missing master of the human revels, Jordan Sasscock. (As a well-trained Dickens reader, I was plumping for Dr. Sasscock to turn out to be Oberon, but then I remembered he appears briefly in The Children's Hospital, so apparently not.) The magicked humans, Molly, Henry, and Will, have been left out of this review, but through no lack of charm of their own in their Dickensianly interlaced plots.

Parts of the novel left me bewildered, especially as I tried to work out the implications of the many references to the culty film Soylent Green. The homeless crazies in Buena Vista Park put on a musical version that culminates with the fabulous song "People who eat people are the loneliest people in the world!" But surely bewilderment is a handmaiden of enchantment. Reading The Great Night was an extraordinary experience. When I finished it, I started it over again.

--Alexandra Mullen

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429961004
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 4/26/2011
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 615,207
  • File size: 388 KB

Meet the Author


Chris Adrian is the author of Gob’s Grief, The Children’s Hospital, and A Better Angel. Selected by The New Yorker as one of their “20 Under 40,” he lives in San Francisco, where he is a fellow in pediatric hematology-oncology.

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Read an Excerpt


One night in the middle of June three broken-hearted people walked into Buena Vista Park at nearly the same time, just after dark. One came from the north, out of the Haight, another climbed up out of the Castro from the east, and the last came from the west, out of the Sunset and Cole Valley: this one was already going in the wrong direction, and shortly all three of them would be lost. They were going to a seasonal party of the famously convivial Jordan Sasscock, at his home at 88 Buena Vista West (Molly was headed, mistakenly, to 88 Buena Vista East.) Jordan’s parties were as famously convivial as he was, and the invitations, while prized, were not exactly exclusive, because it was in the nature of his conviviality never to leave anyone feeling left out. There were swarms of people who trudged up the hill in the middle of every summer to drink Jordan’s beer and wine and stand on his roof and dance in his expansive garden. He was a lowly resident at the hospital nearby, but his grandmother had died five years before when he was still a medical student, leaving him the house and the garden and all the treasures and garbage she had stuffed into it in the eighty-nine years she had lived there: ruined priceless furniture and money under the mattresses and case after case of fancy cat food in the basement, and fifteen cats, only five of which were still alive on the night of the party, because affable as he was, Jordan didn’t much like cats, and he didn’t take very good care of them.

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First Chapter

The Great Night

A Novel
By Chris Adrian

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2011 Chris Adrian
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780374166410

One night in the middle of June three broken-hearted people walked into Buena Vista Park at nearly the same time, just after dark. One came from the north, out of the Haight, another climbed up out of the Castro from the east, and the last came from the west, out of the Sunset and Cole Valley: this one was already going in the wrong direction, and shortly all three of them would be lost. They were going to a seasonal party of the famously convivial Jordan Sasscock, at his home at 88 Buena Vista West (Molly was headed, mistakenly, to 88 Buena Vista East.) Jordan’s parties were as famously convivial as he was, and the invitations, while prized, were not exactly exclusive, because it was in the nature of his conviviality never to leave anyone feeling left out. There were swarms of people who trudged up the hill in the middle of every summer to drink Jordan’s beer and wine and stand on his roof and dance in his expansive garden. He was a lowly resident at the hospital nearby, but his grandmother had died five years before when he was still a medical student, leaving him the house and the garden and all the treasures and garbage she had stuffed into it in the eighty-nine years she had lived there: ruined priceless furniture and money under the mattresses and case after case of fancy cat food in the basement, and fifteen cats, only five of which were still alive on the night of the party, because affable as he was, Jordan didn’t much like cats, and he didn’t take very good care of them.



Continues...

Excerpted from The Great Night by Chris Adrian Copyright © 2011 by Chris Adrian. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Reading Group Guide

Chris Adrian’s fiction has been hailed for its startling originality and provocative meditations on life and mortality. Inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Great Night infuses Adrian’s storytelling with new levels of creative genius, bringing the imaginary kingdom of Titania and Oberon to San Francisco’s Buena Vista Park.

Midsummer’s Eve, 2008. Molly, Henry, and Will, each of them reeling from the loss of a love, set out for a party but become trapped in the park, which has become the home in exile for a madcap faerie court. Like the three mortals who are ensnared in her world that night, Queen Titania is mourning too: her adopted son has died of leukemia, a disease that defied the most potent magic. The queen’s grief has turned to rage, and on this night she unleashes an ancient beast, along with the fearsome might of her tiny Puckish followers.

As their stories unfold, the cast of characters proves to have surprising shared histories, blurring the line between memory and hope at every turn. For some, retracing the past becomes a way of flirting with immortality. For others, it’s only a reminder of how dark the mortal world can be. Culminating in a staging of the 1970s cult classic Soylent Green—indirectly produced by Titania via a homeless man who wants to bring down a seemingly sinister mayor—the novel unfolds as an unforgettable homage to the power of the imagination.

The following questions and discussion topics are designed to enhance your reading group’s experience of The Great Night. We hope this guide enriches your fantastic journey.

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