For as odd as Nick Antosca’s Midnight Picnic is, the plot is relatively straightforward. A man named Bram finds the bones of a murdered boy named Adam behind his home. Adam’s ghost appears to Bram and asks him to kill his murderer. Bram accedes to Adam’s wishes, then he and the boy go to kill the man again, this time in the land of the dead (the descriptions of which reminded me of the nighttime levels in Super Mario Bros). The manhunt through the afterlife makes for some interesting moments, but the story finds its characters unable to find a catharsis or resolution, which is perhaps to be expected in a tale of the dead.
Antosca’s book reads easily, but in many sections, the novel feels as though it’s simply gliding across the surface of the story, reluctant to splash around in the emotional depths of its characters. The writing is so sparse that it is closer to poetry than prose, and its characters could easily be renamed after their respective roles: the man, the boy, the dog. Lacking in any psychological depth, Antosca’s characters function like the gods in mythology — they’re imbued with a few, distinct defining characteristics, but they seem not to think or feel. They just exist.
These aren’t flaws necessarily; Antosca’s choices feel intentional, and all a reviewer can do is say that if you like sparse prose and archetypeal characters, then the book may resonate. If you don’t, it won’t. I’m of the latter category, and had no emotional stake in the characters or what happened to them. Add to that an ending so abrupt that, had I been listening to the audio book, I would have thought I was missing the next CD.
While there are things to commend here — including Antosca’s commitment to his stripped-down prose style, and the surreal descriptions of the land of the dead — ultimately, Midnight Picnic was a book I breezed through on a weekend’s worth of subway trips without ever being especially moved by or interested in it.