Monday, July 6, 2009

There Are Faeries In My Neighborhood

No, this is not the set-up for a tired joke revolving around the "there sure are a lot of gay people in San Francisco" thing. It's a reference to a short story by Chris Adrian, called "A Tiny Feast," which is, to crib a line from Shakespeare, "something rich and strange." (And which was published in The New Yorker in April, but I only now got around to reading.)

The quote from The Tempest is especially appropriate because "A Tiny Feast" is a twist on another Shakespearean fantasy, A Midsummer Night's Dream. The premise of the story is that Oberon and Titania and their band of faeries are living beneath Buena Vista Park in San Francisco (about a mile from my house), and have stolen a human child and left a changeling in his place. When the human boy gets leukemia and cannot be cured by faerie magic, they must disguise themselves as a mortal family and get him treated at UCSF Children's Hospital. This information comes out much more gradually in the story than I have written it here, of course. And what follows is brilliantly odd and imaginative and well-written and meaningful, too. As immortal faeries, Oberon and Titania have great difficulty processing their child's illness and the doctors' diagnoses. But how different is this from the disorientation that any parent feels when his or her child gets cancer?

Chris Adrian, aka Mr. Overachiever, is a critically acclaimed fiction writer, the possessor of a divinity degree from Harvard, and a pediatric oncologist at UCSF--so he knows whereof he speaks. And according to this interview, "A Tiny Feast" is not just a standalone story: Adrian is working on a novel that retells the story of A Midsummer Night's Dream in modern San Francisco. Anticipation! Because, just reading "A Tiny Feast" has got me to see my city as a new place--a magical place. When the N-Judah train tunnels through Buena Vista Park I now think to myself "There are faeries here, living right on the other side of these tunnel walls." I can only imagine what effect a whole novel of this will have on me.

Incidentally, what is it with UCSF physicians having amazing second careers as artists? Aside from Chris Adrian, there is a great band called Rupa and the April Fishes whose frontwoman, Rupa, also works as a doctor at UCSF. My god, they put the rest of us San Franciscans to shame.

Image: "A Fairy Flew Off with the Changeling" by Arthur Rackham.

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