Monday, February 1, 2010

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?


Night Writer said...

I'm so glad you're taking on this book as it's one of my all-time favorites and it's so hard to find anyone who can discuss it because of its depth and complexity.

I've been re-reading as part of your project and something that jumped out at me is the significance of color and it's ability to transfix, as in Pearly's trances and desire for a room made of pure gold, and the way Peter Lake was caught by colors when arriving in Manhattan (along with the sounds of the machinery). I'm pretty sure there was another example of color affecting a character but I can't remember it right now. I'll be watching for similar examples in future pages, with Jackson Mead's bridge of light in the back of my mind as we go.

Night Writer said...

Btw, I came here via the FB Winter's Tale page. I thought the name of your blog sounded strangely familiar - and then I realized I'm currently using the same William James quote on my blog!

Wade Garrett said...

Thanks for reading along, Night Writer. We hope to have a few more comments when we do section 2 on Monday.