Monday, June 6, 2011

Discussion of The Great Night by Chris Adrian

The Great Night by Chris Adrian is Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream wearing the mask of tragedy.  Here’s a quick synopsis:  Three mortals coming from three different parts of San Francisco get lost in Buena Vista Park on Midsummer’s Eve.  They are all on their way to a party thrown by Jordan Sasscock.  The get lost because fairies live under the hill in the park, and Puck causes all hell to break loose.  Oberon, the fairy king, has left his wife, Titania, because she couldn’t stop grieving a dead human child they had both come to love.  Although Titania sent Oberon away, she is depressed and wants him to return home.  Desperate to get Oberon to return, she unleashes Puck from his magical bonds that keep him in control.  Puck is a murderous menace to faerie and mortals alike, and only Oberon can stop him.
            The three lost mortals are Henry, a pediatric oncologist with OCD issues resulting from his abduction as a child and his “mommy” issues.  He was dumped by his lover who couldn’t deal with his compulsive behaviors.  Then there is Will, an arborist/short story author, who falls in love with Carolina.  Will and Carolina both lost their brothers and hooked up in their mutual sorrow.  Carolina eventually dumps Will because of his sexually adventurous extra-relationship activities.  Will unrealistically hopes he’ll see Carolina at the party and get back in her good graces.  Finally, there is Molly, a floral shop girl, who grew up in an uber-religious family that rocked a Christian band.  They were like a Holy Rolling Partridge Family or the Jackson Five on Jesus.  During Molly’s childhood, she felt she didn’t fit in with her family and related better to the troubled foster children that cycled in and out of her home.  She tried becoming a Unitarian minister, but couldn’t relate to grieving parishioners.  That all changed when she found her boyfriend’s corpse hanging from a tree.   
There’s also an acting troupe of homeless folk performing a musical of Soylent Green in the park.  Huff, the buffoon leader of this band of indigents, thinks the mayor is feeding missing homeless people to other homeless people in the soup kitchens.  The musical is his political protest.  Huff mirrors the jack-ass-headed actor and his band of players from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but this part of The Great Night was the least compelling to me.  It felt forced into the story and was given too much importance in bringing about the conclusion.  It didn’t even offer comic relief, which Adrian’s story could have used.
            In spite of all the depressing-as-hell backstories for the characters, The Great Night was a pretty good novel.  Somehow, Adrian managed to keep it from being so dark that it was unreadable.  The pacing was good, and there is plenty of titillating sex in the book.  In one scene, I found myself checking to make sure I didn’t mistakenly pull Naked Lunch off the shelf instead of The Great Night.  (Yes, one part was that kinky).  All lit-porn aside, I found myself flipping pages to learn more about what happened to each of the mortals during their childhoods and in their love relationships.  Adrian did a fantastic job of linking together the stories of all the humans as well as the fairies.  It was a veritable six degrees (or less) of separation which was fun to watch unfold.  Sadly, the plot was not wrapped in as pretty a package.  It seems Adrian is one of those authors with a gift for characterization, but who turns out to be a bit of a chaos magician when it comes to plot.
            For instance, much is made about Jordan Sasscock in the beginning of the book.  Sasscock is the host of the party where the three mortals are expected.  In a sense, this character is a deus ex machina in reverse: rather than offering an inelegant resolution to the story’s problem, Sasscock initiates the action and is quickly and clumsily forgotten.  As Chekov said, (and I’m probably giving a sloppy paraphrase):  “If you have a gun in Act I, it had better not be on the mantle in Act III.”  Jordan Sasscock, to me, was the gun that was still on the mantle.  I half expected Jordan Sasscock to be the missing Oberon in human form.  I mean, the name itself – “Sasscock” – sounds like a horny, licentious fairy trying to pose as a human.  Call me a naïve and unsophisticated reader because I like a plot to work out neatly and maybe even way too obviously.  I can tolerate a plot that isn’t tidy, but only if the theme comes across in such a manner that the reader can decipher it without being a psychoanalyst or a symbologist.
Having Oberon come and save the day (whether he was Jordan Sasscock or not) would have been trite, I suppose.  But the ending was so disappointing to me that I was hoping somebody, anybody, would save it.  Adrian is clearly writing a story about the perplexities of grief and failures to assimilate death into life.  In order for Adrian to stay true to his theme, perhaps he felt it was necessary for a sacrifice to be made at the end and for life to move on as if nothing happened.  So why did I want to rewrite the ending?  I know that sounds pretty arrogant coming from a casual reader, but even the youngest child can judge when story feels complete or not.  Adrian’s conclusion gave me no sense of resolution, nor did it make the “big sacrifice” in the climax seem worthwhile.  The Great Night was a great story until the last twenty pages or so.  If you can tolerate a weak (although not disastrously horrible) finish, you should give it a chance.  Its unique concept and the wonderfully human backstories make it a well-paced and worthwhile read. 

No comments:

Post a Comment