Friday, July 23rd, 2004
4:51 pm - Winter's Tale on a Summer's Day  
So, I finally finished Winter's Tale (last week, actually). The only reason it didn't get flung was because I was sitting in my pickup truck at the time, so there was no place to fling it. (If I was still driving my old Subaru wagon, I could've flung in the back like a frisbee, but I'm not, so I couldn't.)

There is some very pretty prose, and there are some very funny lines, but the story itself is a mess. The first section of the book is fine. It tells the story of Peter Lake, his partnership with Athansor the flying horse, and his love affair with Beverly. It's set in not quite real New York in 1913, and there are some strange goings on, especially when people who are supposed to be dead turn up alive. After that things get weird. Beverly dies, and then Peter Lake and Athansor are set upon by the minions of Peter Lake's arch-nemesis, Pearly Soames, and they die (apparently), as well.

The book jumps forward in time to the nineties. Hardesty Maratta starts a cross-country trip, and winds up in a wilderness Looney Tune with Jesse Honey (standing in for Daffy Duck) that is very funny, but does nothing at all to advance the story. Hardesty survives and winds up in New York. However, where Peter Lake's NYC is slightly different from the real thing, Hardesty's is a bizarre, Seuss-like place where no one knows how to make old machines work, probably because they are missing the proper framjamblers or somesuch. They even still have horses plowing fields and powering tools. Oh, and a complete moron runs one of the city's two major newspapers. The other paper is run by Beverly's brother, 100 years old and still pretty spry. The world building in Harry Potter is more logical.

Into this city drop Peter Lake and Athansor and Pearly Soames and his minions, and a bunch of other raised-from-the-dead time travellers. No explanation of how they all got there, except that some of them are trying to build a bridge to Heaven. They've been practicing over the years by putting up all sorts of wonderful bridges, the Manhattan and the Golden Gate, for two. They try to build their ultimate bridge and fail. Meanwhile, most of New York City burns, and the populace of the Brigadoon-like upstate town of Lake of the Coheeries is completely wiped out. Athansor forgets how to fly, then remembers again. Hardesty's young daughter dies, is buried, is dug up, and wakes up. Pearly Soames catches up with Peter Lake and kills him. The end.

No explanation about what the frell was going on is forthcoming. Who is Jackson Mead, and why does he want to get to Heaven? Is he Satan? Is he Bartleby from Dogma? Is Pearly Soames Satan? Is Peter Lake supposed to be Christ? Kee-Rist! What's the deal with Lake of the Coheeries? Why did it have to be destroyed? What was the point of it in the first place? How are people traveling from one time to another, and how are they being raised from the dead? And why would anyone raise the Shorttails from the dead.

Nothing gets answered. Helprin tells us in the epilogue to "Draw your own conclusions." All that tells me that he had no frelling clue how to tie this mess together, either.

The sad thing is, my copy of the book is damaged goods (missing a folio), so I can't sell the thing, or even give it away in good conscience. Sheesh.

This week I started Wicked. Now here's a book that makes sense.
Current Mood: confused
( Post a new comment )
sfmarty on July 23rd, 2004 - 02:05 pm
I liked Wicked a lot. Even saw the musical when it premiered here.

As for a Winter's Tale, I got confused. I liked Isac Dinesen's story a lot, but what you discribed sounded -very- odd.
(Reply) (Thread) (Link)
DXMachinadxmachina on July 23rd, 2004 - 02:10 pm
Different author. This is the novel written by Mark Helprin.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Link)
Sophia Prestersophiap on July 24th, 2004 - 06:22 am
I love Winter's Tale, but I agree with your assessment. I've read it three or four times, and I'll admit that I'm mostly in it to wallow in the lovely, lovely prose. Also, I tend to spend more time in the first section. After that, I have to take my suspended disbelief and secure it to the ceiling with railroad spikes. What sticks with me from Winter's Tale is not the plot but the vividness of certain vignettes and descriptions. Now that I think of it, I tend to read that particular book more like a poem than a novel.

Oddly enough, I did not like
Wicked. I thought it was well-written, compelling, interesting, etc., but I have no desire to re-read it at any time in the near future. Part of the problem, I think, was that I read it at a time in my life when having one of my childhood favorites deconstructed in such a harrowing manner was something I really didn't need.

DX, have you ever read Last Call by Tim Powers? I have a feeling that one would be right up your alley. It's sprawly but coherent, and Powers does some amazing stuff in combining the whole Fisher King mythos with the world of professional gambling.
(Reply) (Thread) (Link)