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ENCHANTED NIGHT by Steven Millhauser


by Steven Millhauser

Pub Date: Oct. 27th, 1999
ISBN: 0-609-60516-X
Publisher: Crown

A compact, deftly constructed novella that traces with wry precision the interrelationships among a Connecticut townful of midsummer night’s dreamers on a humid and mystery-laden evening “when the almost full moon wakens sleepers in their beds.” Fourteen-year-old Laura Engstrom leaves her bed and drowsily wanders her neighborhood, the unsuspecting cynosure of adult admiring eyes. Haverstraw, a frustrated middle-aged writer, keeps his regular late-night assignation with the older woman who is his unlikely intellectual companion. Lonely Janet Manning fantasizes a handsome lover’s reappearance. A “girl gang” of teenagers who break into houses and commit acts of innocuous vandalism are in fact welcomed in by “the woman who lives alone.” Natural laws are suspended: an aroused “moon goddess” hungrily takes the virginity of a sleeping boy; toys and dolls come to life, including a department store mannequin who’s adored by a drunken loner, and the mismatched commedia dell—arte puppets Columbine and Pierrot. The considerable pleasure bestowed by this slim tale lies in the delicate recombinations of these and other figures, and in Millhauser’s ingenuity in uniting, then, parting, Meanwhile, a lyrical narrative overvoice summarizes the night’s events with memorable images (“the moon is a white blossom in a blue garden”) and resonant phrasing (“the lovely summer life of yards”). And a wonderfully moving coda in effect blesses the story’s several “characters” as they variously awaken from, or imperfectly recall, their enchanted evening. Some will find all this insufferably fey; readers who don’t will be richly, magically rewarded. Millhauser (The Knife Thrower, 1998, etc.) is a stylist and visionary whose fiction dances on the very edge of preciosity without ever falling into it. He’s also that greater rarity in American fiction: the writer who keeps getting better and better.