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?


Night Writer said...

I'll be brief - for a change!

This time through the book I'm paying more attention to fore-shadowing, but not in the traditional sense of what's going to happen in the plot. I'm looking at the fore-shadowing of the underlying themes in the book. A very important part of what happens in this section -- especially in light of your question about how Helprin will pick up the threads in Book 2 -- comes in Peter Lake's interview with Isaac Penn, and Penn's description of justice.

Night Writer said...

Btw, are you familiar with the 80's Irish band The Waterboys? Mike Scott wrote most of their lyrics and he was a big fan of Winter's Tale. On their album The Sea, he wrote a song entitled "Beverly Penn". From what I've read of the album and of Scott's comments about it and WT, I'm pretty sure thier song "The Whole of the Moon" from the same album may also describe Peter Lake and Beverly Penn.

Wade Garrett said...

Night Writer - That's interesting. Not knowing what comes next, its hard to know what's foreshadowing and what isn't, but I'm certainly looking forward to seeing where Helprin takes it from here.

Night Writer said...

Wade - thanks for the head's up; I hadn't realized that you haven't read the book before. I applaud your selecting it for this forum. It is a pretty chewy book, but the juices such chewing provides are great!

I will be careful in any future comments not to give away any plot twists, though I may point out certain passages that will have resonance later, such as Helprin's vision of justice that underlies the story, most recently in Isaac Penn's statements and in Beverly's speech to Peter after Mocquin's.

If the ending of Book 1 is a downer, there is a bit of more conventional fore-shadowing in the return of Cecil Woolly - I mean, Mr. Cecil Mature - and the reported return of Rev. Dr. Mootfowl.

There is so much great stuff ahead for you and those reading along! The challenge Helprin presents is that the story is so compelling you want to read quickly to see what will happen next, yet the prose is so perfect that you want to slow down to absorb the images. My advice: enjoy the trip and let the story unfold for it is in the hands of a master.