Chris Adrian's third novel, The Great Night, is a magical flora- and fauna-drenched book with San Francisco at its heart and covered in tristania, laurel, soft grass, and poplar. Adrian's wondrous take on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is set in the fog-shrouded city where Oberon and Titania, king and queen of the faerie kingdom, have made their home under the hills.
On Midsummer Eve, Titania is awash in anguish over the dual loss of her beloved adopted mortal son to leukemia, and her husband Oberon, chased away by her anger and sorrow. In a fit of despair, she unleashes the powerful and enslaved faerie Puck, a beast set on world annihilation. Meanwhile, lost in Buena Vista Park that night are three damaged humans: obsessive-compulsive Henry, a recently dumped gay man; Molly, whose boyfriend killed himself despite her fervent love; and unfaithful Will, who hopes to reconcile with his ex-girlfriend. As they become increasingly turned about in the park, their stories of defeat emerge, linked by various occupations and connections to the earth—Henry is a pediatric doctor with a dread of dirt, Will is a skilled tree doctor, and Molly, who failed at hospital chaplaincy, is now a florist. Like a dream, their pasts are peeled back as they're caught in the faerie web.
The Great Night is rich with hints of Lewis Carroll, J.M. Barrie, and L.M. Montgomery, but full of Adrian's detailed and evocative imagination. The Harvard Divinity School graduate, pediatric oncologist, and talented novelist weaves together the realities of death and hospital life into an excellent novel where both love and death are described as terrible. Take the scene where Titania—Queen of the Night, Empress of the Air, and Suzeraine of the Autumn Moon—is wearing a track suit, sitting in a dreary hospital room awaiting the white blood cell count of her son, ignorant of the medicine of mortals. "Titania could not conceive of the way they were made except as distillations of sadness and heartbreak and despair, since that was how she made her own poisons, shaking drops of terror out of a wren captured in her fist or sucking with a silver straw at the tears of a dog." It's a gorgeous scene, in a novel ripe with crepuscular dreaming and starry dread.