The Book Junkie

My brief take on Chris Adrian's The Great Night is that you should save your time.

The book has a really interesting concept (retelling A Midsummer Night's Dream set in modern-day San Francisco), but the actual story falls flat. It's hard to one-up Shakespeare, and Adrian didn't manage it. The plots don't overlap well, the characters aren't all that compelling (and they don't grow), and the ending left me wanting more--but not in a good way. I didn't feel like the story had resolved. Shakespeare doesn't leave you feeling like the story's not over; Adrian does.
A Midsummer Night's Dream has three main plots: The Wedding, The Play, and The Dream. The Great Night has a two plots attempting to be three, but they don't mesh. Even as I read, I lost track of the different plots and characters, they were so disconnected. I'll try to keep track of the threads here.

The story takes place in Buena Vista Park in San Francisco on Midsummer Eve 2008.

First the humans. Molly is mourning the death-by-suicide of her boyfriend. Will has been dumped by his girlfriend, whose brother (Molly's boyfriend) committed suicide. Henry is a doctor with OCD and a mysterious past. Seriously mysterious: a chunk of his childhood is a black hole in his memory. Henry has also recently broken up with his boyfriend. See the theme? They're all lovelorn. Then we have a group of homeless people (who are supposed to parallel the "rude mechanicals" of Shakespeare's version) who, on coming to the "realization" that the mayor is feeding homeless people to the homeless people, decide to stage a musical version of
Soylent Green in protest to this forced cannibalism.

Meanwhile, we have the fairy element of the story: Titania, her fairy followers, Puck and, in absentia, Oberon. Titania is distraught at Oberon's defection. (He apparently left her after their changeling child died of leukemia. No, that didn't happen in Shakespeare. Adrian apparently wrote a short story about this and made that part of this story. Hence one of the big continuity errors between his work and Shakespeare's.) In her despair, she decides to release Puck from the magical binding that she & Oberon had placed him under (that's another one from Adrian's short story, so don't worry when you can't find that part in the original). Puck, mischievous elf that he is, doesn't settle for helping Titania. He also decides to wreak some havoc while he's around. He puts an invisible wall around the park so no one can get in or out, and he spends his time attacking, maiming, and otherwise having his fun. No, I don't remember Puck being violent and bloodthirsty either. Apparently Adrian decided to use his poetic license.

Anyway, the story flashes around from the fairy's story to Molly/Will/Henry's story(ies) to the homeless guys' story, never coming together. I kept thinking that the book would end up being good, but when I finally finished, I realized that I had wasted hours of my life that I'll never get back. I held out hope till the end. It could have been redeemed with some good up-wrapping denoument at the finish! Until the very last page, I thought I might get a sense of how the whole thing went together. But no. Adrian took the easy route and resolved the story in a weak, unsatisfying whimper.
 
 
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