If this book could talk it might say: Here, have a laugh. Let me re-fill that haughty heart of yours. There is no way to do this book justice. We begin with what is possibly the prettiest 1-page prologue ever written.
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By Ted Gioia Woody Allen has been both praised and criticized for creating a fantasy version of New York in his movies —depicting a city that is no longer "a grimy urban jungle," in the words of film critic William Rothman, but "the most photogenic city on earth, boasting buildings and trees that even Paris would die for. And among authors, none has attempted a more ambitious or thorough literary regeneration of Manhattan than Mark Helprin.
In his novel Winter's Tale , Helprin aims for nothing less than an apotheosis of the city, a sanctification by fire that, at times, crosses beyond the familiar terrain of the novel and enters into the realm of myth or dogma.
Peter Lake, the main character in Helprin's epic work, undergoes a personal redemption as well. A one-time burglar, previously known as Grand Central Pete a name borrowed from a real life NY con man of the nineteenth century , Lake reinvents himself, first as consort of a Manhattan heiress, and later as a catalyst in the millennial transfiguration of New York itself.
The messianic overtones of Helprin's story gradually become more obvious as the novel progresses—Lake learns to travel through time, later develops psycho- kinetic powers, and eventually plays a key role in raising a girl from the dead.
Lake possesses a dim comprehension of the destiny awaiting him—sensing that he may play a key part in dawn of a new age. This anticipation of a coming splendor is shared by many other characters in Helprin's novel. Lake's lover Beverly Penn, slowly dying from consumption, is mesmerized by transcendent images—discovering "grace, or madness, in her visions of the starlight" where she sees "a sky full of animals whose pelts were made of an infinite number of stars.
They moved slowly and smoothly, for, really, they were motionless. Lake also encounters an even more visionary individual: the bridge builder Jackson Mead, who dreams of a grander span than those made of steel and stone—something more akin to the Tower of Babel than to any terrestrial structure.
Lake also meets up with Hardesty Marratta, who gives up the family fortune to a ne'er do well brother, and travels to New York, as part of a vision quest to find a perfectly just city. Other dreamers who populate this book include newspaper owner Harry Penn, brother of Beverly, and his editor-turned-mayor Praegar de Pinto; while even the villains Pearly Soames and Craig Binky have their heads in the clouds.
Lewis ' s Aslan than Seabiscuit or Secretariat. In short, Helprin's New York is anything but a hard-headed, practical city—instead spawning cadres of prophets, sages and dreamers. And there is plenty of it: by my estimate, at least pages of this page novel is comprised by descriptions of locales.
Few writers can set a scene with more sheer gusto than this novelist, but should scenery really take center stage in any drama?. Helprin is especially inspired by winter settings, and his ingenuity in describing white on white reminds one of those proverbial Eskimos with their hundred terms for snow. By the same token, a hundred or so pages of this frosty, breathless prose could have been excised from Winter's Tale , and would hardly have been missed.
Despite all his adjectives and subordinate clauses, a relentless ambiguity permeates Helprin's New York. This too is part of literary style of Winter's Tale. Take, for example, the following passage: "There he was bobbing and floating on rafts of color high above the streets: silvered canyons and warm red brick, the lisp of a huge broken clock, trees like bells shuddering sound in green, silent streets as dark and elegant as mirrors in dim light, a thousand paintings left and right—islands in the stream cascading from above, the heat of pale stone, merchants forever frozen who never ceased to move, cooing purple pigeons shaped like shells, an arsenal of roses in the park, streets that crossed in forks and chimes, leopard shadows, dappled lines.
What is meant by an 'arsenal of roses'? How can a street get crossed 'in chimes'? When are pigeons 'shaped like shells'? What is the 'shuddering sound' of trees that are like bells? I have no answers to these questions. Yet such passages are typical of Helprin's mystical tone. Where other authors deliver precision in a few sentences, he provides vagueness in many paragraphs—intentionally, no doubt, and with the plan of hinting at grand things "through a glass darkly," but in a manner that will leave some readers just as frustrated as others are exhilarated with his intimations of a more majestic city behind the visible one.
For this same reason, Helprin is drawn to the fuzzy side of nature, and devotes endless passages to fog, mists, clouds, snow. He is champion of anything that obscures our view, anything that replaces clarity with vagueness. Few writers would take on the mission of describing that which cannot be described, but this, it seems, is Mr.
Helprin's most cherished ambition. All this comes out most clearly in the final pages of Winter's Tale. Here Helprin in a book, remember, published in presents the final days of and the dawn of the year No Y2K doomsayer or fearmonger quite envisioned the kind of cataclysmic changes that Helprin lays out in his concluding chapters.
But even here our author is coy, and holds back from explaining the transformations afoot. The result is a sprawling, poetic and unconventional novel. I was enchanted and dismayed by turns in reading it. Even as I grumbled about the author's oblique prose and roundabout method of storytelling, I marveled at the sheer abundance of his descriptions and the daring of the narrative. True, there are plenty of other New York novels, and many are more accurate than this alternate history, or more sharply plotted, or richer in character and dialogue.
He made Manhattan magical. And even in a novel, that is no small matter. Yet, in the final analysis, Winter's Tale remains a failed masterpiece. And the obstacle here is not New York—I accept that it can be redeemed or glorified or whatever you want to call it—but the essence of fiction itself. By abandoning the constraints of storytelling, and seeking instead to infuse his narrative with the reverberations of scripture, Helprin reaches for effects that perhaps no novel can achieve.
Click on image to purchase. The Year of Magical Reading click here. Welcome to my year of magical reading. My choices will cross conventional boundary lines of genre, style and historical period—indeed, one of my intentions in this project is to show how the conventional labels applied to these works have become constraining, deadening and misleading. In its earliest days, storytelling almost always partook of the magical. Only in recent years have we segregated works arising from this venerable tradition into publishing industry categories such as "magical realism" or "paranormal" or "fantasy" or some other 'genre' pigeonhole.
These labels are not without their value, but too often they have blinded us to the rich and multidimensional heritage beyond category that these works share. This larger heritage is mimicked in our individual lives: most of us first experienced the joys of narrative fiction through stories of myth and magic, the fanciful and phantasmagorical; but only a very few retain into adulthood this sense of the kind of enchantment possible only through storytelling.
As such, revisiting this stream of fiction from a mature, literate perspective both broadens our horizons and allows us to recapture some of that magic in our imaginative lives.
Follow Ted Gioia on Twitter at www. The State of the Art Ballard, J. The Atrocity Exhibition Ballard, J. Crash Ballard, J. The Crystal World Ballard, J. Childhood's End Clarke, Arthur C. Babel Delany, Samuel R. Dhalgren Delany, Samuel R. Nova Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Dick, Philip K. Ubik Dick, Philip K. Camp Concentration Disch, Thomas M. The White Hotel Tiptree, Jr.
Slan Van Vogt, A. The Island of Dr. Moreau Wells, H. Robert Heinlein at A.
By Ted Gioia Woody Allen has been both praised and criticized for creating a fantasy version of New York in his movies —depicting a city that is no longer "a grimy urban jungle," in the words of film critic William Rothman, but "the most photogenic city on earth, boasting buildings and trees that even Paris would die for. And among authors, none has attempted a more ambitious or thorough literary regeneration of Manhattan than Mark Helprin. In his novel Winter's Tale , Helprin aims for nothing less than an apotheosis of the city, a sanctification by fire that, at times, crosses beyond the familiar terrain of the novel and enters into the realm of myth or dogma. Peter Lake, the main character in Helprin's epic work, undergoes a personal redemption as well. A one-time burglar, previously known as Grand Central Pete a name borrowed from a real life NY con man of the nineteenth century , Lake reinvents himself, first as consort of a Manhattan heiress, and later as a catalyst in the millennial transfiguration of New York itself. The messianic overtones of Helprin's story gradually become more obvious as the novel progresses—Lake learns to travel through time, later develops psycho- kinetic powers, and eventually plays a key role in raising a girl from the dead.
Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin
As a teenager in the mids I was mildly obsessed by — among other things, of course — fantasy novels and New York. I'd never been — still haven't, as a matter of fact — but had assembled a composite picture of it from movies, TV cop shows and Marvel comics. Then along came a book which fuelled both of my obsessions: Mark Helprin 's Winter's Tale. Back then books came to me with no hype or fanfare.
Season's readings: Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
Winter's Tale is a fantasy novel by Mark Helprin. It takes place in a mythic New York City, markedly different from reality , and in an industrial Edwardian era near the turn of the 20th century. The novel was adapted into a feature film by Akiva Goldsman. Peter Lake is the central character of Winter's Tale.