Steven Millhauser,
Enchanted Night
(Crown, 1999)

In simple, lilting prose, Steven Millhauser awakens the silvery magic of the summer moon in his novella, Enchanted Night. From the pages waft the scents of bittersweet longing and pungent desire, mingling with the aromas of fresh-mown grass and the compelling melody of pan flutes.

Enchanted Night uncovers the midnight yearnings of a variety of people in a small town on the Long Island Sound. Laura wakes in the smothering confines of her bedroom, with one insistent thought running through her mind: Get out. Haverstraw pushes himself away from his typewriter, disgusted with his life, while Janet peers down from her bedroom window, feeling like a fairy tale princess waiting for her prince to come. Coop downs another beer, hoping that tomorrow will be better than today. An old lady longs for company, a mannequin longs to let her guard down, and Danny longs for his teenage life to move a little faster.

There are darker shadows abroad on this moonlit night, too: a gang of young girls who break into houses and snoop around, and a slick-haired voyeur who has a feeling the night has something special in store just for him.

Over the entire town, the almost-full moon gazes down, her beams penetrating even the most despairing lives with the freedom that can only be found on certain summer nights. And in the forest primeval, a laughing faun plays a Pied Piper tune that draws the children from their beds, one by one.

Millhauser's ability to depict the aching dreams of small-town lives -- the adolescents and the aging, the lovers and the loners -- is most potent in his attitude toward his characters. Yet Millhauser's serious examination of his characters' lives cannot hide the air of whimsy that infects the entire novel. You get the feeling that you have entered Millhauser's private life, yet the feelings he evokes -- laughter, heartache, loneliness -- are universal in scope. The description of the town and the summer night are rendered with the grace and clarity of a writer long-acquainted with the place. Written as a series of titled vignettes, the numerous threads of Enchanted Night come together to form a story of Romantic proportions with Gothic undertones; the climax is subtle and nuances, yet it resonates deeply long after the story is finished.

Magic moves this story, too, as Millhauser pays homage to the Moon Goddess and her powers of healing and freedom. The length of Enchanted Night ensures that it can be easily read in one sitting; upon finishing the novella, I'm sure you'll agree that Steven Millhauser is a bewitching storyteller.

[ by Audrey M. Clark ]

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