From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Martin Dressler comes a stunningly original new book set in a Connecticut town over one incredible summer night. The delicious cast of characters includes a band of teenage girls who break into homes and simply leave notes reading "We Are Your Daughters," a young woman who meets a phantom lover on the tree swing in her back yard, a beautiful mannequin who steps down from her department store window, and all the dolls "no longer believed in," left abandoned in the attic, who magically come to life.
With each new book, Steven Millhauser radically stretches not only the limits of fiction but also of his seemingly limitless abilities. Enchanted Night is a remarkable piece of fiction, a compact tale of loneliness and desire that is as hypnotic and rich as the language Millhauser uses to weave it.
Compared to his ambitious, Pulitzer Prize-winning Martin Dressler, Millhauser's new novella may seem slight, but it has a resonance and fairy tale allure that belie its slim page count. Set on a sultry summer night when an almost-full moon hovers over Southern Connecticut, the book follows a handful of small-town characters who yearn for anonymity, recognition, love or escape. Laura Engstrom, 14, seeks a solitary release from the deep restlessness that makes "her bones itch." Haverstraw, 39, lives with his mother while he works on a novel and despairs of ever achieving anything with his life. Janet Manning, 20, longs for the appearance of a "heartbreaker" she met on the beach that afternoon. A drunken romantic, William Cooper, 28, gazes into storefront displays, hoping for love and a lucky break. An old woman who lives alone yearns for company. He gracefully intertwines these lives and others with magical elements--a mannequin that comes alive, a chorus of "night voices," a silent visit from a moon goddess--to create a trance world suffused with luminescence and longing, where each character verges on the brink of fulfillment or collapse. Millhauser sketches each person's plight in a few skillful lines and repeats gestures and thoughts so their variations resound on many levels. A set of abandoned dolls, for example, awaken and pantomime a sorrowful romance that echoes Janet's desire for her young lover, Haverstraw's long-standing friendship with a friend's mother and Coop's abstracted love for the mannequin. Only a scattering of facile nursery-rhyme type of songs echo hollowly in Millhauser's elegant, penetrating tale.