Enchanted Night

by Steven Millhauser, (c) 1999  –  Vintage Books trade paper edition

After reading two reviews of this book, one by Chris at the Stuff As Dreams Are Made On blog, the other by regular commenter here, Carl V. on his blog Stainless Steel Droppings, I decided to read it. Both reviews gave me the impression that this book by Millhauser was something special, and it is.

In a small Connecticut town on an almost-full moonlight night, many things are happening, some of them common, others magical. The night is filled with the cool silver light of the moon, and that light has brought about some changes: dolls in an attic stir to life, a mannequin moves, one of her hands becoming slightly flexible, then she is able to turn her head slightly, just as an inebriated man stands looking into the store window.

The moonlight brings some people awake and out of their beds, to seek relief from the hot, breathless night, to seek freedom or love or adventure or companionship. There is haunting music in the nearby woods, which is only heard by the younger children.

Millhauser writes well, and there is a touch of Ray Bradbury in this book, I was reminded of passages in his Dandelion Wine, and there is a bit of Garrison Keillor’s storytelling in his Lake Wobegon pieces here as well, but the voice and style is Millhauser. The chapters are short, three pages at most, sometimes just a few lines or a paragraph. Descriptions are full of appeals to the senses: colors, smells, sounds, textures.

Labeled on it’s cover as a “novella”, the book intertwines vignettes into a whole, the various events, the people and places, comprising it’s 130-page entirety. At times I felt the author wasn’t giving me enough in his attempts to keep within the stylistic bounds he had set, but for the most part this is an enjoyable book, nearly as enchanting as the night it describes.

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10 Responses to Enchanted Night

  1. Bill Crider says:

    Your review reminds me of a “forgotten book,” Brad Denton’s LUNATICS, which I recommend highly.

  2. Carl V. says:

    I felt like I was reading a close cousin of Dandelion Wine when I was reading it as well. There is a similarity of tone and spirit to both books.

    I’m glad, after Chris and I raved about it, that you didn’t find it disappointing. I’ve been enjoying the Dangerous Laughter collection, so if you are ever in the mood for more Millhauser I would recommend it.

  3. Todd Mason says:

    No, wait! HE CAN’T BE A FANTASY NOVELIST…HE’S A (KOFF) LITERARY NOVELIST. It’s so wrong! Those fantasy novelists aren’t Literary, just because the best use sterling prose, deep characterization, and subtle or carefully constructed subtext or both. He’s a…fabulist! A…a…writer like Mark Helprin or Kevin Brockmeier or…whew…thank goodness we shored that wall up quickly, eh? Now, let’s see, is Ursula K. Le Guin on this side, and William Kotzwinkle on that side, these days…it’s so hard to keep up with the willful misunderstanding sometimes…

  4. Patti Abbott says:

    it sounds special. i will look for it–no matter what genre or genrelessness it occupies.

  5. Richard says:

    Todd – yep, and he even won a Pulitzer Prize. Shocking, isn’t it?

  6. Richard says:

    Carl – I’ll have to re-read your review, I don’t think I remembered any mention of Dandelion Wine… but I’m encouraged that you thought that also.

    Patti – it’s an entertainment, and well written.

  7. I’ve read several of Steven Millhauser’s books. Liked all of them. Millhauser is a unique writer, unclassifiable in my opinion. Over all the years he’s been writing, Millhauser continues to astonish.

  8. I had to pick this one up after your recommendation. We seem to have a lot in common, though not everything(as it should be), so I don’t see how I can go wrong.

  9. Pingback: Reading Forgotten Books: Enchanted Night – Steven Millhauser « Not The Baseball Pitcher

  10. Richard says:

    I’ll be watching your blog for a review!

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