710 of 750 people found the following review helpful
Sheer Insanity and Gorgeous Magic,
By A Customer
This review is from: Winter's Tale (Paperback)
Winter's Tale, a gorgeous masterpiece by master writer Mark Helprin is a book about the beauty and complexity inherent in the human soul, about God, love and justice and the power of dreams, those that take place while we sleep and those that we conceive while awake.
The story begins and ends with Peter Lake: orphan, master mechanic, and master second-storey man. One night Peter attempts to rob a fortresslike mansion in New York's Upper West Side. Although he believes the house to be empty, it is not. Beverly Penn, daughter of the owner is home. Home and dying, and thus begins a love affair between a middle-aged Irish burgler and a fatally-ill heiress.
A simple and uneducated man, Lake cannot understand the love in which he becomes so thoroughly entangled that he is driven "to stop time and bring back the dead."
Inbetween the story of Peter Lake and his quest to overcome death through the power of enduring love, Helprin shows us a magical view of a New York City that is, at times, so extraoridnarily real you think you are there, and at other times so magical you only wish you could be.
All of Helprin's protagonists, however, are not native New Yorkers and have come from elsewhere to seek their destiny, a fact that goes a long way towards helping those of us not familiar with the city feel that we have come to both know and love it.
Winter's Tale spans the entire twentieth century and we get a glimpse of everything from horse drawn carriages on cobbled streets to lunatics who rub elbows with sable-wrapped heiresses on Fifth Avenue.
Ignoring reality, Helprin's book is a glorious and ethereal melange of magic and insanity in which people are picked up by a wall of clouds that engulfs the city and then deposited in other times and other places. Although it can seem disjointed to someone not accustomed to this style, it is always a delight.
Helprin never fails to reward readers with one surprise after another: a village hidden on an island in a solid lake of ice where time stands still and the inhabitants do nothing but skate, ice-sail and star gaze, equipped with sparkling lanterns and mugs of hot-buttered rum; dead loved ones who are not really dead at all but simply living joyously in another time and place awaiting our own arrival; and a majestic white horse that can actually jump five city blocks at one time and help its rider to escape anything that happens to be in pursuit.
In Winter's Tale, anything that can happen, does happen, and while some of it is impossible, though still always glorious, much of it really is possible, though not quite probable. There is Beverly, who sleeps on the roof of her father's mansion, in the cold, winter air, in a specially-made bed of furs and canopies, watching the stars and defying the advent of death; there is Lake, himself, who makes his home in the rafters of Grand Central Station; there are midnight horse-drawn sleigh rides from the heart of New York City to the almost mythical Lake of the Coheeries which can only be found by the light of the moon across almost endless expanses of ice and snow; there are the clouds that drop a living man into the icy waters beside the Staten Island Ferry; and there are boats that simply vanish into an opaque, lightening-flickered fog bank, never to be seen again.
Winter's Tale, however, is fantasy and intense romanticism, not magic realism. But fantasy and intense romanticism are exactly what are called for in this fantastic and intensely romantic tale.
The protagonists of Winter's Tale all meet, lose contact with one another and then meet again as destinies cross, lose their way, and then double back to cross again.
Helprin drops many hints along the way that New York is heading for its Armageddon, a point where all good and evil will finally meet in one climactic moment and a golden light of peace, love and justice will usher in a new life for this glorious city. It could happen, and then again, maybe not, but Winter's Tale is certainly worth the trip to see.
Told in gorgeous prose throughout, Winter's Tale weaves an insanely magical tapestry of beauty and love that is both death-defying and life-affirming. After you read it, you will feel that it is something you could not have lived without.
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 29, 2008 9:52:24 AM PST
Maura Mostowy says:
Wow, thanks for this thoughtful & well-written review. You've convinced me to read it.
Posted on Jul 22, 2008 4:02:46 PM PDT
Thank you! Winter's Tale is one of my all-time favorite books, but friends who I've forced to read it just haven't had the same wonderful experience I have. I'm so glad that you did and that you articulated it so well. I hope that due to your review many more people are enticed to read this fabulous book and are delighted with it!
Posted on Jul 4, 2009 10:21:26 AM PDT
This was an amazing book, and I loved every minute of reading it. Every sentence was a bouquet of sweet and savory imagery. I loved the characters and howled, giggled and exclaimed all the way through the story.
Posted on Jan 8, 2010 10:31:10 AM PST
Incredible review. You described a book that seems indescribable.
In reply to an earlier post on Jul 23, 2012 4:25:12 PM PDT
John A. Bechard says:
And you have compelled me to read it again! It has been too long.
Posted on Feb 7, 2014 6:03:08 PM PST
Kathryn L. Grier says:
Thank you! I wanted to know more about the story, and the book description at the top of the page is sorely lacking.
Posted on Feb 8, 2014 3:25:33 PM PST
I read this book in 1984 and I can still remember the magic that the author created with his words. Can't wait to see the movie (but hard to imagine it will do the book justice).
Posted on Feb 18, 2014 7:34:42 PM PST
It's been thirty years since I first read this book and your review brings back memories! Great job!
Posted on Feb 27, 2014 9:58:29 AM PST
You have done an amazing job reviewing this special story. I too consider Winter's Tale to be one of my favorite books. You have captured it's magic beautifully. Thank you for writing this review. I hope it will entice others to read this special story.
Posted on Aug 29, 2015 5:47:30 PM PDT
Robert J. Morris says:
Ever love a book and not know quite why? I did. But not any more - this review touches exactly what I felt while reading Helprin's masterpiece. Perfectly put.
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