Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Steven Millhauser returns with a magical novella imbued with the transforming power of the (almost) full moon.
"A hot summer night in southern Connecticut, tide going out and the moon still rising. Laura Engstrom, fourteen years old, sits up in bed and throws the covers off."
Others, too, are awakened by a chorus of night voices: Haverstraw, a thirty-nine-year-old failed writer living in his mother's attic; an old woman who lives alone; three teenage boys looking for trouble; a gang of girls who roam the night and break into houses; a lonely young man looking for love; a beautiful mannequin whose cold fiberglass arms begin to quicken; a group of restless children; and assorted dolls, toys, and animals long forgotten in an attic.
"This is the night of revelation. This is the night the dolls wake. This is the night of the dreamer in the attic. This is the night of the piper in the woods."
Only Steven Millhauser could transform our childhood legends of the night into a hypnotic adult tale of passionate enchantment, encounters of darkness and illumination, human passions and inhuman awakenings. Read it by the light of the moon.
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. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.