Kirkus Reviews QR Code
WINTER'S TALE by Mark Helprin


by Mark Helprin

Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 1983
ISBN: 0156031191
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

From the very first sequence here (a white milk-cart horse bounds over the newly-built Brooklyn Bridge in a bid for freedom), Helprin makes it clear that he's out to conquer the Latin-American-style genre of magic realism--with splendid worlds of the impossible-made-possible, with concentrated storytelling designed to vibrate and shine on each page. The white horse effortlessly becomes mythic Athansor, who can also fly; he will rescue a virtuous young 19th-century burglar named Peter Lake from a mob of his evil ex-cronies, the Short Tails; Peter will later hide up behind the stars set into the ceiling of Grand Central Station, meeting newspaper-tycoon Isaac Penn's beautiful, dying daughter Beverly (who will become his Beatrice). And then a huge cloud-wall imprisons Peter and preserves him from eternal death. . . to spit him out nearly a hundred years later, near the millennial year of 2000--when New York City is facing destruction from its rampaging poor, from its corrupt power-brokers (e.g., a boobishly villainous newspaper publisher a  la Rupert Murdoch), and from apocalyptic winters. There's a magic salver, a rainbow-tech bridge; there are valiant, virtuous heroes and heroines. And Helprin tirelessly, artfully strings variation upon variation--the fabulous recapitulating itself in different disguises and in lovely, serene yet vibrant, harmonic sentences. (Especially notable: the scenes involving travel or machinery.) Yet, for all this surface appeal, there's little substance here, with New York City's glories and injustices the only real subject-matter. If anything, in fact, the novel seems to be a celebration of Helprin's empyrean, breathtaking technique--his zeal for recapitulation, for enchanting the reader into timeless innocence and memory, for putting his sparkly material through hoop after hoop of painless fabulizing. And the result is talemaking of avid genius, rarely silly or cheap, frequently stunningly poetic--but also more than a little stupefying and show-offy, without the core of seriousness that gave focus and integrity to John Crowley's similar Little, Big (1981).