I’m a bit at a loss how to sum up this book. Basically, on a summer night under an almost-full moon, people of all ages (and dolls, and toys, and a mannequin) around a coastal town wake up and wander until dawn. Each has a different agenda and a different story to tell, and only in rare instances do they interact with each other. Music issues forth from a goat-legged piper in the woods, calling the characters from their beds. The whole thing is told in a series of somewhat interconnected vignettes, the largest three pages long, the shortest, seven words. It’s like Edward Gorey crossed with Salvador Dali, written in the style of House on Mango Street. Weird.
This is my second read by Steven Millhauser. I first read his short story collection The Barnum Museum two years ago, after the movie The Illusionist came out (it was based on one of Millhauser’s short stories). I really liked the collection, and in particular his story “A Game of Clue,” which has stuck with me strongly since I read it. I find myself recalling bits of it quite often. I chose Enchanted Night for my 2nds Challenge. I didn’t know, at the time, that it was a 100-page novella in vignettes. If I had, I would have chosen a different book. I’m not a big fan of the vignette form, at least not interconnected vignettes making up a full book. Indeed, despite the book’s short length, it took me two days to read. I didn’t think I liked it very much, but by the end, there was something about its peculiarity which endeared me to it. I can’t really say why I liked it, or what I liked in particular, but at the end, I was satisfied.
There are, I admit, many negatives to this book which should make me dislike it. I don’t really like the vignette style. There were far too many characters for such a short book. There is no climax, no action, no overarching plot, no real fiction form, actually, and no resolution (in fact, nothing to resolve, really). Or maybe that last part’s not too accurate, as perhaps many people had little things to resolve, and each got resolved, for better or for worse, in the end. But the story as a whole didn’t. I wonder, though, if that matters, because it wasn’t really a cohesive story, but something fragmented and clinging to each other by spiderlike threads. Almost experimental, with definite creepy and mildly sexual undertones. I don’t know. One way or another, though, I’m sure I don’t understand half of what Millhauser laid out, and I will probably remember each little moment distinctly. Perhaps over time I will grow to understand it more.
I don’t know if I recommend this to anyone, but it certainly was an interesting experience. I’ll bet it would be better to listen to than to read, with someone who would do all the voices…