Mark Helprin, 1983, Harvest Books; Reissue edition.
This was not the first time I’ve read this book, and, like each time I read it, I found new things in it this time around too. Let’s start with the obvious. Helprin is what we call in my circle a right winger. What should be enlightening to my fellow …er … travellers is that Helprin’s politics are visible in the book, as is his very warm consideration for humanity, in all its flawed glory. If I were to dare to use the term, I’d have to say that this book shines with “compassionate conservativism.” If they can get around the somewhat fascist feel of the apocalyptic mayoral campaign that takes up the last quarter of the book, even dyed-in-the-wool leftists should find much to enjoy here.
Politics aside, there are a number of things that make this book such a great read. Helprin has a real tenderness towards his characters, even the evil ones. He has a deep love for New York, not only as a real city, but as a self- assembling mythology, and he enthusiastically participates in building that mythology even higher. He has a beautiful grasp of the language, which he plays with mischievously (if self-indulgently), and his blurring of magical realism into reality is nothing short of wonderful. Events and characters which would be merely cartoony in lesser hands are instead amusing, fascinating, and oddly appropriate. As an tech guy, I also enjoy his tangents off into the mad magic of early industrial machinery.
Winter’s Tale taps into something epic, mythical, and mysterious. I’d argue that the first half is better than the second, but why split hairs (or books)?