Chris Adrian's The Great Night & Blueberry Scones
I had the pleasure of meeting Chris Adrian and hearing him read a chapter from The Great Night during a writer’s conference at Northwestern University. Adrian had chosen a passage that, in hindsight, contains the very core of the novel. Titania, queen of the faeries (the very same Titania of A Midsummer Night’s Dream), is in the hospital with her husband Oberon, watching over Boy, a changeling they have unexpectedly come to love. Boy is mortal and dying of a very mortal disease that Titania and Oberon cannot fathom despite their immeasurable powers, leukemia.
Upon his death, Titania makes a grave mistake that sends her husband Oberon into hiding. Consumed by the loss of both her loved ones, she releases a terrible beast on the Great Night (midsummer’s eve) and chaos ensues, affecting mortals and immortals alike. Three heartbroken humans, lost in the confines of Buena Vista Park, are taken into the faerie kingdom below it and remain at the mercy of Titania and the beast as they battle their own “endless, static grief.”
Henry quietly overcomes his obsessive-compulsive behavior too late to regain his lost love. Molly remains immersed in mourning her boyfriend Ryan’s suicide. And Will stays hopeful that he will return to the mortal world to share his experiences with Carolina, as a way to win her love again after his infidelity. The three characters haunt the narrative, their pasts intermittently revealed in the midst of the surrounding chaos. Unbeknownst to them, their lives were already connected in unexpected ways, and all three had been previously touched by the magic that unfolds.
Adrian weaves the Shakespearean references lightly, and the plot falls gently into place, unraveling the relationships between people, love, and the blisteringly sad nature of both. As Henry, Molly, and Will discover their origins and the very nature of love itself, Titania too comes to terms with it. Love, like mortal beings, is a terminal case, and though its loss creates “a great gnawing sadness,” it is the very essence of existence that cannot be lived without.
In some way, love cuts the great Titania to size, bringing her to a level of existence shared by every creature. Though she begins as heartless, unpredictable and powerful as the natural world she represents, Titania cannot shed her vulnerability after losing both Oberon and Boy. Only in recognizing the transfiguring power of loss, can she understand that though “day after day into eternity, she couldn’t live without them,” she also could not return them and thus could never restore her prior self.
The humans, however, lose this knowledge as they’re sent away from the faerie kingdom, wandering with a vague memory that something spectacular has consumed them, without quite being able to identify it. Likewise, the reader is left feeling beguiled and charmed, unsure of just what Adrian’s fantastic rendition of love and loss could mean beyond "intimations from the world that there was more to be had, something different and something better.”
Chris Adrian’s The Great Night is a magical meditation on the trials of loss, delving through mortal and mystic love that transfixes both human beings and immortals alike to consider the shared experience of mending a broken heart. In his darkly humorous and profoundly sad piece, Adrian’s work is pleasant but tart, filled with rich characters that crumble at the edges and peppered with dark moments in a seemingly bright world.
Below is a way to satisfy your desire for Adrian’s characters to come to life – in the form of a tart, but not too sweet little treat that goes well with a dark cup of tea.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- powdered sugar (for sprinkling)
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoons salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter (cold, cut into pieces)
- 1 1/2 cup fresh blueberries (picked over and rinsed)
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1/3 cup heavy cream (plus more for brushing tops)
- 2 large eggs (lightly beaten)
Preheat oven to 400ºF.
In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
Using a fork, cut in the butter until the largest pieces are the size of peas (sometimes it's easier to break apart the last pieces with your hands).
Stir in blueberries and zest.
Using a fork, whisk together cream and egg in a liquid measuring cup. Make a well in the center of dry ingredients, and pour in cream mixture.
Stir lightly with fork just until dough comes together. Put the dough a lightly floured surface, and knead a few times to mix well.
Pat dough into a square about 1-1/4 inches thick. Using a floured knife, cut into four 3-inch squares. Cut squares in half on the diagonal to form eight triangles. Cut these triangles in half to form 16 smaller triangles.
Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Brush tops with cream. Bake until golden brown, 20 to 22 minutes. Transfer scones to wire racks to cool.
After scones have cooled, sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.