Thursday, July 30, 2015

Winter's Tale - Mark Helprin


I'm reviewing this book as part of the 2015 Magic Realism Blog Hop. But Winter's Tale has been on my TBR list for some time.

Viewed from our end of the turn of the 21st century, Winter's Tale appears to be set in a version of New York City that never existed. The book spans a hundred years (it skips several decades in the middle) and begins in the late 1800s with a cart horse. The horse escapes from his stable and rescues a burglar, Peter Lake, who's being chased by a gang of thieves called the Short Tails. Peter Lake (who is always referred to by both names) eventually falls in love with a consumptive girl named Beverly Penn, and when she dies, he and the horse go over a mysterious wall of cloud and disappear. This cloud wall moves, appears, and disappears throughout the novel, occasionally spitting out something that has gotten caught up in it. Like the white horse. And Peter Lake. Both show up again in the waning years of the 20th century with magical powers and villains to thwart -- except that Peter Lake has amnesia, and he must cure himself of that before he can bring back the dead.

The book is long, the language dense and almost lyrical. I found myself enjoying the descriptive passages at some points, but rushing through them in other places in order to get on with the story. There's a very funny set piece in the middle of the book, when a character named Hardesty falls in with a dwarf who claims to be a wilderness guide but who is worse than useless at it. And occasionally there's a bit of wisdom, like this from Peter Lake: "The balances are exact. The world is a perfect place, so perfect that even if there is nothing afterward, all this will have been enough."

Ah, but it it magic realism? I'm not sure. The book's New York doesn't have much in common with our New York, other than topology. If you view the things that happen as metaphorical, then I guess it's similar to the work of Carlos Fuentes, kind of. Regardless, I did enjoy Winter's Tale and I'm glad I finally read it.