Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Winter's Tale

Here is our schedule for the next couple of weeks of reading Mark Helprin's A Winter's Tale. We encourage you to read along and to contribute your thoughts and analysis. Sometime tomorrow, I will be posting my thoughts on the first chapter of book 2.

Week of 3/1: Beginning of Book 2 through the end of "Lake of the Cooheries"

Week of 3/8: "In the Drifts"

Week of 3/15: "A New Life" through the end of Book 2

Week of 3/22: Beginning of Book 3 through "An Early Summer Dinner at Petipas"

Week of 3/29: "The Machine Age" through "A Very Short History of the Clouds"

Week of 4/5: "Battery Bridge" through "White Horse and Dark Horse"

Week of 4/12: "The White Dog of Afghanistan" through Ex Machina"

Week of 4/19: "For the Solderies and Sailors of Chelsea" through "The City Alight"

Week of 4/26: "A Golden Age" through the end of the novel

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Revisiting Music From the 00's

Over the past couple of weeks, I've revisited some music from the past decade that had been gathering cobwebs in the distant corners of my iPod. Here are my scattered thoughts on some of the best of them:

Freelance Hellraiser - A Stroke of Genie-us
I heard about Freelance Hellraiser's mash-up of Christina Aguilera's "Genie In A Bottle" over The Strokes' "Hard To Explain," well before I actually heard it. As a big fan of The Strokes who hated just about everything about bubble gum pop music, the very idea of combining one of my favorite bands - a band that was redeeming real rock music performed by real musicians with real instruments from the terrible schlock that was on the radio at the time (does anybody remember Train?) - dumbed down for the teeny bopper set offended me. But when I finally got around to hearing it, I was amazed - it sounds as if those lyrics are written to go with that music, and the entire thing is just fun. You can tell that Aguilera and The Strokes approved, because neither made any effort to take it down off of the internet or shareware programs. I recently heard it again for the first time in a while, and it still holds up:

David Bowie - "Slow Burn"
Every time I heard that an aging baby boomer was about to release a 9/11 record, I cringed a little bit, fearing the utter travesty that, fortunately, never really happened. David Bowie's "Slow Burn" was the best of them, bringing immediacy to current events in a way that rock music had failed to do since the early days of U2.

Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Throw Away Your Television"
For a while in the early years of the last decade, the newly sober Red Hot Chili Peppers, reinforced by John Frusciante and coming off of the success of Californication, looked ready to take over unofficial mantle "Biggest Rock Band in the World" from U2. That never really happened, but Californication and By the Way are excellent albums, if albums that are slightly less than the sum of their parts. This song begins with a bitchin' bass solo by Flea, turns into a Duke Ellingtonesque dance hall stomp, and builds to a climactic Frusciante guitar solo that he reached into the future and pulled back to stick into your ears. Had they come up with six or seven songs like this, they might have stuck around for a few more albums.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

This Does Not Bode Well

Over the past couple of days, the San Diego Chargers released future Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson and former all-star and NFL yards from scrimmage leader Brian Westbrook was released by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Both players have had great careers, but both are past their prime, and commentators have discussed how teams are no longer willing to take chances on thirty-year old running backs who have taken a lot of hits over the years. That's a little depressing for me, because I turn thirty in a couple of weeks, but my primary concern is that one of these two players is going to end up on the Buffalo Bills.

If you're a football fan, tell me if this chain of events would surprise you: the Bills sign LT, the Buffalo News runs about 50 articles along the lines of: "You should be excited because the Bills just signed a future Hall of Famer", LT averages 3.7 yards per carry and takes 200 carries away from Fred Jackson, the Bills undervalue Fred Jackson because he didn't touch the ball enough, Jackson rushes for 1300 yards for another team in 2011.

Seriously, what are the odds that this will happen? Can we place bets on this? If not, is it because nobody would willing to bet against this happening?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

With Curses Like This, Who Needs Blessings?

Jon Hamm is so funny in this skit that Daniel Day-Lewis forgave him for stealing his hairdo from 1993.

not-especially-emo olympic thoughts

I know the victory of canada in men's hockey is meaningless, but god, do i love beating canada at hockey. it's like beating mexico at soccer. it is so emotional for them.

i'm on team pluschenko. you should have to hit a quad to win the men's individual gold in figure skating

aerials in the sky when you lose small mind you free your life (yes, I make that joke every four years)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Winter's Tale - Weeks 3 & 4

We didn't post last week for Winter Olympics-related reasons, but we're glad to be back talking about Winter's Tale this week, because, after a couple of weeks of neo-Dickensian scene-setting, things got really, really interesting in the past two weeks.

This week's reading starts with Peter Lake burglarizing a mansion on Central Park West. The house belongs to Issac Penn, a newspaper magnate, who, along with most of his family, has left the city to spend the winter at their cabin on the Lake of the Cooheries, "so far upstate that nobody could find it." The only family member who remains in the city is their daughter Beverly, who is sick, the early stages of consumption, and who cannot make the trip with her parents and siblings. Lake breaks in and finds Beverly taking a bath; they fall in love at first sight and immediately have sex; presumably the sort of dirty burglar sex that occurs in porno movies and nightmares.

There are a lot of funny little scenes with Beverly and Peter. Days later, Beverly wants to go dancing at Mouquin's on New Year's Eve, and, though Peter Lake knows that his arch-nemesis Pearly Soames is guranteed to be there. Soames spots them and grows angry, but he is so mezmerized by their passion and their dancing that he decides not to bother Peter and Beverly that night. Later, in a hilarious travel sequence that's impossible to describe without spoiling, they brave the snow to pay the Penns a surprise visit at their place on the Lake of the Cooheries, while Issac Penn, unable to locate his daughter in the city, gives his employees orders to search for Beverly comprehensive enough to make Tommy Lee Jones' Agent Gerard proud. When Issac Penn meets Peter, he immediately identifies him as a criminal. Somewhat predictably, Penn welcomes him to the family anyway, because he makes his daughter happy, and because, since she is stricken with tuberculosis, he wants to make her happy while he still can.

The fantastical elements of the books first 100 pages or so lost me a little bit; I was too conscious of the fact that I was reading a fantasy novel. I totally lost myself in the past two weeks' assignments; I am now fully invested in the novel's characters. Helprin has elevated the novel from mere fantasy to something approaching a modern fairy tale, complete with a moral intelligence that makes itself apparent on almost every page. Its just wonderful writing. Without spoling anything, let's just say that it ends on a series of downers that made this reader wonder how Helprin was going to pick the narrative up again at the beginning of the second book.

What was your reaction to the past three chapters, and where do you think the book is headed from here?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Weekend Links

Here's what we've been reading and watching this week:

Chris Jones' profile of Roger Ebert in this month's Esquire Magazine is one of the best articles I've read this year. The Inspector and I grew up watching Siskel & Ebert and have read Ebert's reviews online for as long as we've had access to the internet. Ebert's reviews influenced my writing directly and, just as significantly, they influeced the critics like Nathan Rabin and Scott Tobias, whose writing got me interested in writing about popular culture in the first place. A total must-read.

Locker Room Nerds - The Wall Street Journal's article about how foreign-born players are making NBA locker rooms more literate. I may be reading too much into this, but it can't be a coincidence that this generation of NBA players is so likeable in addition to being so literate. Derrick Coleman, Glenn Robinson and Stephon Marbury didn't read that many books. I'm just saying.

Your Life, Via The Onion - The AV Club discusses the Onion articles that most remind them of their own lives. One of the best Q&A's in recent months.

Michael Sokolove's profile of Shani Davis from the New York Times Magazine is the best thing written about the winter Olympics so far.

We've been listening to Is This It a lot this week, and Jake chipped in like a champ by finding this great demo version of "Barely Legal."

And finally, just because its awesome:
Neko Case, live at the Beacon Theater, New York City, 11/16/09

Hearts On Fire

Swedish heavy metal + Olympic curling = awesomely ironic music video. Its not quite as catchy as Mamma Mia, but then, what is?

Friday, February 19, 2010

emo olympic thoughts

There is something deeply ironic about Chinese freestyle snowboarders. Snowboarding--the ultimate manifestation of middle class creativity spawned from boredom being superimposed on an autocratic culture with minimal parallel structures. I always imagine Chinese snowboarders trundling back to a dorm after a day of training being berated "that was not steezy enough! if you do not increase your awesomeness, you will be discarded!" This is possibly racist of me or at least subscribing to ugly cultural stereotypes. but seriously, where do chinese snowboarders come from? are they part of burgeoning middle class in china? expatriates? products of a sports machine?

Does Lindsay Vonn ski with that much mascara on, or does she touch up between her run and her interview? Is there is schism within skiing over make-up? Maria Reich and Ana Pearson seemed totally unpainted.

Is it possible that figure skating costumes are optimized for viewing at a distance of 30-100 yds like stage makeup? Do they look ridiculous because we see them so up close, but really they are meant to look flowy and sparkly to judges who have a very different view? this would explain why they look so silly to TV viewers.

They should never schedule women's halfpipe after men's halfpipe. the difference in tricks made women's a serious letdown. for some reason this was more palpable than the gender difference in other events.

How do you get to be an internationally respected snowboard judge? What are the qualifications?

Can You Keep A Secret?

I'm trying to organize a prison break. I never know whether, when I'm in the mood to watch a movie like Lost In Translation, if watching it will make me feel better or worse. Probably worse, but what a beautiful movie.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

emo evening thoughts

Boarder X is a crappy olympic sport. it isn't very interesting or subtle, because it is so difficult to pass that the leader out of the gate wins >85% of the time. this is what happens when you allow sports invented in the X games into the olympics.

I think the test of whether you are an adult is whether snow is fun or a pain in the ass.

is it moral to email people who have radically overpriced their used furniture on craigslist to inform them of this fact. I am somehow offended by people who do not understand depreciation.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Is This It, Revisited

My Valentine gave me a present yesterday - an early printing of The Strokes' debut album Is This It? The original version of Is This It varies from the subsequent printings in two important respects: its ninth track is "New York City Cops" instead of "When It Started," and its cover art is this bitching black-and-white photo instead of the more familiar blue and gold magnified image of particles colliding.

The album was released in Australia and the United Kingdom more than two months before it was released in the United States. The band loved the original hip-and-glove cover but was worried that it might not play with large American retailers, so it changed the cover art for the American printing, meaning that one of the greatest album covers of all time was never released in the United States. The track change occurred because Is This It had the bad luck of a September 25th, 2001 release date. "New York City Cops," the album's ninth track, featured a chorus that repeats the line "New York City Cops ain't too smart." When the album's release was postponed for all of the predictable reasons, and "New York City Cops" was quickly switched out for "When It Started." Since it was too difficult and expensive to reprint the album on vinyl, the album was released with two different track listings, one for the cd and one for the vinyl. "New York City Cops" was never released in the United States, though the band has played it live for the past several years.

Is This It is one of my desert island cds, so it was a little strange to listen to a different version of it nine years and hundreds of listens after I first heard it. Its a shame that "New York City Cops" wasn't released, because its a fun song, and has an Albert Hammond Jr. guitar solo - high-pitched, seamlessly blended into the rest of the song - that is way too good to keep hidden under a bushel basket, and the stunning cover walks the line between "sexy" and "sexist" in a way that would make Nigel Tufnel proud. "When It Started" is a great song in its own right, and fits in with the rest of the album so well that you could never guess that it would have been lucky to be a B-side if not for the September 11th attacks. My iTunes now has an Is This It playlist that features all twelve songs, and I look forward to revisiting the album again after years of taking it for granted out of sheer familiarity.

emo afternoon thoughts

Divorce Song was never my favorite track on "Exile in Guyville" as a teenager. but I think it is now.

Packing lunches, scheduling bedtimes, cooking wholesome dinners, and having your schedules interrupted by teenage baseball practice brings an eerie sense of mortality when one is no longer the baseball player

why does NBC think I only want to watch olympic sports in which the US has a medal hopeful?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Weekend Links

Here's what we've been reading and watching this week:

The Onion AV Club has an interesting feature, "Falling Out of Love Hard," on art that they loved when it was first released, but have changed their minds about over the years. I could probably come up with an extensive list, but Todd VanDerWerff's selection of American Beauty would probably be at the top of my list. That movie premiered at the Yale Film Society (its producer was a member of the YFS when he was in college) and, as a pissed-off nineteen year-old, that movie seemed to capture what it meant to be misunderstood, and to show exactly the sort of mundane suburban lifestyle I would have done anything in my power to avoid. Five years later, I watched it with a girl I was dating at the time, and, though the cinematography and acting was still first-rate, the dialogue seemed stilted and play-like, and the plot so melodramatic, that I wondered why I loved it so much in the first place.

The New Yorker ran a great short story, "The Fjord of Killary," by Kevin Barry.

Home Boy, a blog written by a 27 year old Georgetown law school graduate from who finds himself unemployed and living with his parents in Buffalo after the economic downturn hits the legal market.

President Obama is too cool and likable for Saturday Night Live to impersonate him too much. Rahm Emmanuel, on the other hand, is a great politician to impersonate, and Andy Samberg knocks it out of the park.

CSD favorite someecards is always good for a laugh, but never moreso than around Valentine's Day.

And finally, just because its awesome:

Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day Weekend!!!1

Valentine's Day weekend starts today, so get ready to pretend to enjoy your cliche greeting cards and the overpriced 'weekend menus' and $15 flourless chocolate cake for two that every dimly lit restaurant is trotting out this weekend.

Don DeLillo at Book Court

Last night, CSD favorite Don DeLillo read from his new novel Point Omega at Book Court, in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn. After reading so many of his books, it was a bit of a context shock to see him in person - all of his sentences seem so carefully considered on the page that it was odd to hear him answering questions off the cuff. The crowd was easily a couple of hundred people, spilling over from Book Court's main room and into the smaller entrance room; apparently there were dozens of people around the corner who could hear his voice, but couldn't see him in person. Inevitably, the place was crowded with Bookworm Hipster Douchebags, but there were also a few prominent members of the brownstone Brooklyn intelligencia - Paul Giamatti was there, and I'm sure there were a number of other writers and actors I didn't recognize. The event was a lot of fun, and, from what he read of it, Point Omega seems to be in keeping with the abstract, apocalyptic, vaguely Samuel Beckettish prose style he has used for his past several books. He signed books for a long time afterwards. The guy in front of me claimed to have come down from Newfoundland to see DeLillo in person. DeLillo is so popular with Generation X writers (David Foster Wallace, Joshua Ferris, Jonathan Lethem, Zadie Smith, etc. have all spoken of his as being a major influence) that its easy to forget he's in his mid-70's and has been publishing for 40 years. He is thin and has a wavery voice that makes everything that he says sound wise and earnest. He spoke about his writing, and about what inspired him to write certain books of his, but, thankfully, dodged the academic, big picture, "where do you think American culture is headed?" style questions. The reading gave me insight into DeLillo, but not so much that I felt I could 'see the strings' behind his writings. Seeing so many people crammed into an independent bookstore to see a great writer like DeLillo at 7pm on a weeknight made me feel good about . . . well, about a lot of things. It was just a great event.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Wrath That Dodge Hath Wrought

This video made my day. Dodge/Chrysler didn't have much goodwill going into the Super Bowl but it left the Super Bowl having considerably less.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Don't You Hate It When This Happens?

Brooklyn Decker sure seems to be in a good mood, which is funny because I hate it when my swimsuit breaks and I have to cover my boobs with my arm for the rest of the day. Nothing will ruin a beautiful day at the beach faster than that! Oh, I just hate it when that happens!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pop Quiz, Hot Shot

You meet your soul mate. However, there is a catch: Every three years, someone will break both of your soul mate's collarbones with a Crescent wrench, and there is only one way you can stop this from happening: You must swallow a pill that will make every song you hear - for the rest of your life - sound as if it's being performed by the band Alice in Chains. When you hear Creedence Clearwater Revival on the radio, it will sound (to your ears) like it's being played by Alice in Chains. If you see Radiohead live, every one of their tunes will sound like its being covered by Alice in Chains. When you hear a commercial jingle on TV, it will sound like Alice in Chains; if you sing to yourself in the shower, your voice will sound like deceased Alice vocalist Layne Staley performing a capella (but it will only sound this way to you).
Would you swallow the pill?

-Chuck Klosterman, Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Winter's Tale - Week 2

This week's reading from Winter's Tale fills us in on Peter Lake's backstory, how he got to Manhattan, and how he learned all of the different skills that made him such an effective burglar as an adult.

The details of Lake's childhood probably don't qualify as "spoilers," in that they don't give away any big turning points in the plot, and yet I am reluctant to discuss them because it really needs to be read to be appreciated - Lake's upbringing is part Pip, part Huckleberry Finn, part ancient myth. Parts of the Ellis Island chapter reminded me of Middlesex (and may, for that matter, have inspired it) and that sort of scene is such a critical part of American mythology that I had my guard down when the larger, more important allusion to the Book of Exodus occurs a few pages later. I appreciated the way that Helprin lets us believe he is headed towards familiar cliches and then branches off in another direction entirely.

The first couple of scenes in New York struck me as a little bit odd; the narrative jumps around a bit, and there are a lot of coincidences, and an out-of-nowhere teenager three-way (sort of?) sex scene, but once Peter ends up at the orphanage and the gritty Dickensian urchin stuff began, the story really picked up for me. Helprin again shows us hints of a few Dickensian cliches, but subverts them before we get too settled in. The story jumps ahead rather dramatically to Peter's adulthood, but by the end of this week's section it felt like the exposition was behind us and the plot proper was ready to begin.

Your thoughts?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

How Jon Hamm Got Mad Men

I missed Jon Hamm's appearance on Saturday Night Live last week, and only got around to watching clips from it today. We think that Jon Hamm is one of the better new hosts that Saturday Night Live has had in recent years, and is probably the one who has the most fun doing it. Most of the skits reference Don Draper in one way or another, or play off of his good lucks, which is fine, but eventually they'll start finding more creative ways to use him, especially since, in his two appearances to date, he has shown himself to be game for all sorts of silly stuff. Last weekend's monologue led up to one of the better 'clash of context' jokes I've seen in a while:

Friday, February 5, 2010

Weekend Links

The Internet has a lot of stuff on it! Here's what we've been looking at this week:

CSD favorite Jonathan Lethem gives a lengthy interview with KCRW radio, about his new novel Chronic City.

The website Selleck Waterfall Sandwich consists of a bunch of photoshopped images of waterfalls with Tom Selleck and sandwiches superimposed onto them. Is it weird? Of course. Is it an enormous waste of time? Yes, that goes without saying.

Thanks to Josh Modell of the AV Club for posting Alec Baldwin's great speech from Glengary Glen Ross.

I'm not as into web comics as Paul Smecker or The Inspector, but a friend turned me on to The Oatmeal and its pretty rad so far.

The sociological value of the New York Times' peek into Netflix queues is off the charts.

And, bringing back a bit of a CSD tradition, here's a just-because-its-awesome music clip: "Girlfriend Is Better," by The Talking Heads, from Stop Making Sense.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

emo evening thoughts

if we all get e-books, can we still have free lending libraries? Will we just download files that will self-destruct after 2 weeks? What about waiting lists, will libraries buy a certain number of licenses for each book?

Joan Didion's "play it as it lies" is great. I'll elaborate on this later, but it has been a while since I was reading a book I couldn't put down.

So is it safe to assume that 75% of the "clothing and accessories" section of Craigslist is stolen? Especially the stuff "with tags." Did CL revolutionize the business of fencing stolen goods?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The BBC's Tinker, Sailor, Soldier, Spy

John le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is one of the greatest spy novels ever written, and the BBC's adaptation of it, which I recently watched for the first time in more than ten years - and for the first time since reading the novel - is one of the greatest TV miniserieses I've ever seen.

The story is set in the early 1970's, when the British Secret Intelligence Service was in disarray. Its networks of spies in eastern Europe and Asia are being rounded up, and its agents shot or arrested. The long-time head of the Service, referred to only by his nickname, "Control," has determined that the Service has a high-ranking mole, but Control is dying, and losing his edge. He's narrowed it down to six possible candidates, all of whom are high-ranking career spies; World War 2 heroes with reputations beyond reproach. Control sends a trusted MI-6 operative to Checkoslovakia to meet a Check general who wants to defect, and who knows the identity of the Service's mole. But its a set-up, the kind of trap that a younger, sharper Control would have sniffed out. The ailing Control is 'retired' by the powers that be, and when his right-hand man George Smiley (played by Alec Guiness) suggests that the trap may have been set up by a mole, Smiley is discharged, too.

Eight months later, Oliver Lacon, the civil servant who oversees the British Secret Intelligence Service, contacts George Smiley and calls him to a meeting at a safehouse in the British countryside. As it turns out, a former British assassin has returned to England after going missing for months. He reports that, in his dealings with Russian spies in Portugal, he found out that the Soviet Union does, in fact, have a high-placed mole in British intelligence. There are only a few people in the Service who have the expertise to ferret out the mole, and Smiley, being the only person expert enough and out of the loop long enough to be beyond reproach, is the only one who can be trusted with the project. The catch: other than assistance of Smiley's protoge Peter Guillam, head of the 'scalphunters,' or hitmen, Smiley can't use any of the Service's employees, or any of their facilities, to avoid tipping off the mole. Without the use of official channels, Smiley has to uncover the mole by piecing together clues gained from interviews with retired, fired, and disgraced former intelligence agents, each of whom knows only a small piece of the puzzle. All signs indicate that Karla, the legendary head of Soviet intelligence, who Smiley once dealt with decades earlier when they were both mid-level spies working in India, is personally running the British mole, and may have been doing so since before World War 2. Since the mole - whoever he is - is somebody Smiley cut his teeth with and has worked with for more than thirty years, Karla and the mole know Smiley's strengths and vulnerabilities, as well as those of the other most senior members of British intelligence, making the detection that much more difficult.

The novel's byzantine plot is laid out in a way that's easy to follow, but that doesn't give anything away in an attempt to explain it to the audience. The BBC respects the viewer's intelligence - the story begins in medias res, and never condescends to its audience by spelling out what came before in excessive detail, and characters don't tell each other things they would already know. We are shown tradecraft - the nuts and bolts of how spying works - but we are not told. That the miniseries is able to wring so much tension out of a six-hour plot that mainly consists of a series of interviews and conversations is a testament to the quality of the acting, and that of the script. The tension arises both from the 'whodunit' nature of the plot, but also from our increasing understanding of the stresses and anxieties of working in intelligence. We learn how spy networks are built, and how double-agents work, and how double-agents can go wrong. A Soviet national, working in Britain as a spy, is 'turned' and persuaded or coerced into spying against the Soviets. He gives you information about what the Soviets are looking for in Britain - information you'd like to know - but you need to give him some secrets to take back to his handlers - otherwise his handlers will recall him (at best) or suspect that he's turned (at worst). If you don't give him important enough information, his bosses will get suspicious. But how can you be certain that the information you're giving him is as important as the information you're getting back. Are you turning a Soviet spy against his employers, or playing right into their hands? How much can you glean from the questions people are asking, even if you don't give them an answer? When you work with people who lie for a living, and who are trained for years in how to keep secrets and maintain a poker face, who can you trust?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

emo evening thoughts

This webcomic from A softer world describes the current state of emo

Both the washing machine and the dishwasher froze this weekend. The secret downsides of quaint victorian housing stock rears its head

I really felt for Taylor Swift during her heinous grammy performance, but you can't bring game that weak on a stage that big. Sometimes lip-synching is the better part of valor. and Rhiannon is about 14th on the list of Fleetwood Mac song I would have picked. (I know I know it showcases female vocals, but it is still boring).

Put Your Little Hand In Mine

Monday, February 1, 2010

emo evening thoughts

Julia child's "my life in france" is dull and fluffy and was tarted up with sex and feminism for the movie.

if you had a 17 year old boy for 3 days, what would you do with him? (and you can't get him drunk/high). college hockey, anyone?

there is nothing like time to make your master's thesis manuscripts look irrelevant

Winter's Tale - Week 1

Winter's Tale begins with back-to-back set piece chase scenes. In the first, a white horse escapes its barn and running through the snow-covered streets of turn of the century New York, while its owner attempts to track it down. The horse comes to the end of its run, and sees, at a distance, a professional burglar named Peter Lake being chased by a street gang. The white horse takes pity on the outnumbered Lake, and offers him a ride.

If the anthropomorphic narration of the horse's ride was not enough to show the reader that the New York City of Winter's Tale is different than the sooty purgatory of other historical novels, then the whimsical, dream-like description of Peter Lake's escape left no doubt. Though the plot is just getting started, the physical setting and dream-like tone have already been established, and it is clear that Helprin is swining for the fences here - we can see him putting the pieces of a much larger epic into place. It is a little jarring to see the magical realist tone deployed in a place as gritty as late-19th Century New York; one is accustomed to seeing it in Columbian rain forests and Indian villages, but not amongst the smoky granite of Riis-era Gotham.

What are your thoughts on the first chapters, and on the novel's tone in general?