Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin

January 3, 2008

Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin is quite simply one of the most magical books I’ve ever read. I had never heard of the book before seeing a review in Paste Magazine (who also recommended Raw Shark Texts, so they’re two-for-two), but have since learned it was one of the books that received multiple votes in the New York Times poll of the best novels of the last 25 years.

Winter’s Tale tells the story of Peter Lake, an orphan who is taken in by the Baymen who live outside of Manhattan in the early 20th century, as he grows up, discovers New York City, marries, disappears, and reappears.

I’ve never been a huge fan of flowery writing, but it’s one of the things I loved about this book. Helprin writes like a poet, and the resulting prose fits in well with the magical nature of the book.

The New York at the beginning of the story resembles the one portrayed in Caleb Carr’s The Alienist, another book I enjoyed and recommend. What’s wonderful is that Helprin continues the magic and the mystery of this age even as New York City moves into the modern era.

If I were a better writer I could better express why I love this book so much. The closest I can  come is to say that by pointing out this magic and mystery in even our most mundane endeavors, our cities and slums and machines, Helprin teaches me how to live in an increasingly digital and prosaic universe. I plan to reread this book again and again to see if I can learn more from Helprin and Peter Lake.

Read it. I hope you’ll love it as much as I did.

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