Synopses & Reviews
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 Shakespeares “A Midsummer Nights Dream.”
On Midsummer Eve 2008, three people, each on the run from a failed relationship, become trapped in San Franciscos 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.
“Adrian takes great imaginative risks in his writing....He clearly knows the sorrow of the human comedy and what fools we mortals be. Brush aside your Shakespeare, and you will find the same in The Great Night.”—The Washington Post
“A touching human story of ‘mortal sadness…interweaving stories and situations that are in turn kitsch, camp, wry, and heartbreaking. Adrian balances seemingly incongruous elements to form a profoundly humane and moving work.”—The Telegraph (London)
“As moving as it is imaginative...Amid the magical romp, Adrian...manages to grapple with the problems and joys of the most human of emotions: love.”—GQ
“Whimsical, very sad, wonderful...At age forty, Adrian ranks among the best novelists of his generation, a moralist of a very high order....He has taken the scaffolding of Shakespeares play to build a cautionary tale about the dangers lurking in all of us.”—The Cleveland Plain Dealer
Chris Adrians magical third novel is a mesmerizing reworking of Shakespeares A Midsummer Nights Dream. On Midsummers Eve 2008, three brokenhearted people become lost in San Franciscos 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 and the death of her adopted son, Titania has set loose an ancient menace, and the chaos that ensues upends the lives of immortals and mortals alike in a story that is playful, darkly funny, and poignant.
About the Author
Chris Adrian is the author of Gobs Grief, The Childrens 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.
Reading Group Guide
1. The books epigraph is taken from lines spoken by Shakespeares Titania to the laborer Nick Bottom, who has been magically transformed into an ass. Under a spell, Titania has fallen in love with the donkey-headed Bottom. Is fairy life as comfortable as she says it is? Is mortal love a kind of spell, too, as Molly, Henry, and Will experience it?
2. The grim reality of the pediatric oncology ward illuminates the splendor of Titania and Oberons world. What does their experience with the Boy demonstrate about parenting, and about the limits of a parent who seems to have unlimited resources? What is good and bad about Titania and Oberons parenting? In what way do Beadle and Blork become like parents to the parents?
3. If youre familiar with A Midsummer Nights Dream, compare it to The Great Night. How do real and imaginary realms influence each other in both works? Do the authors have the same approach to despondent lovers?
4. As Molly mourns for Ryan, is her familys religious history, along with her botched chaplain internship, a help or a hindrance?
5. How does Henrys abduction affect his relationship with Bobby? What is left of Henrys identity after Bobby leaves? How did you react to the crossroads between Henrys and Ryans youth?
6. What do Wills parents teach him about relationships and love? Which of their lessons does he unlearn with Carolina?
7. How might the novel have unfolded if it had been told from the other lovers points of view: Bobby, Carolina, and (from the grave) Ryan?
8. Do the mayor and Titania have similar problems as rulers?
9. Just as Shakespeare presents a play within a play, staged by Bottom, Adrian imagines a homeless performance of the 1973 cult classic Soylent Green, which is set in a dismal 2022, featuring a world consumed by overpopulation, the greenhouse effect, and a reliance on processed food rations (Soylent Green). How does it affect your reading to watch fiction unfold inside fiction?
10. How did you picture the frightening, unleashed beast? How did you feel when the fear was resolved, and Henry and Titania came to their resolution? What do you suppose the squirrel will tell Bobby?
11. Enchanting, liberating, yet gritty, how do San Francisco and Buena Vista Park mirror the characters in The Great Night?
12. How do love and longing manifest themselves differently in the novels two worlds? Whether the characters are mortal or not, what are the greatest sources of oppression and freedom in their lives?
13. Chris Adrian has compared The Great Night to a mixture of “odd-tasting foreign candies.” Which of the many tiny feasts in this novel was the most appealing to you?
14. What aspects of The Great Night echo the struggles captured in Adrians previous fiction (Gobs Grief, featuring Walt Whitman and Victoria Woodhull; The Childrens Hospital, invoking Noahs Ark; and A Better Angel, a story collection in which the characters contemplate the metaphysical)? Which aspects of The Great Night are unlike anything you have read before?
15. If your world were inhabited by fairies, what would they want from you? How would they manifest themselves in your workplace, your neighborhood, and your love life?
Reading group guide written by Amy Clements / Amy Roots Wordshop, Inc.