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?