Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Winter's Tale - Four Gates to the City/The Lake of the Cooheries

This week's reading was only forty pages long, so this post will be short and sweet. There are some longer readings coming up in the next few weeks.

I love the precious descriptions of the snowy upstate New York towns, and the way they tend to populate themselves with loveable little eccentrics. (Let the record reflect that this is one literary cliche of which I will never tire.) Virginia Gamely, raised in a super-literate household in the middle of the sticks, voyages to New York City on one of the coldest days of the winter. She has to skate down a river just to get to a steamboat, and, once she arrives, she finds out that the boat is trapped on an iceberg. Her weight, and that of her son, are just enough to crack the ice and free the ship, which then makes its way to New York City post haste. Once they arrive, Virginia and her son have their "rubes' first day in New York" moments, and, by chance, ends up running into Jessica Penn, daughter of Issac Penn and the younger sister of the late Beverly Penn, who starred in the first book of the novel. She introduces them to a group of high-society newspaper publishers, and her vocabulary and insight lead to an on-the-spot job offer, writing about the city from an outsider's perspective. If only landing a full-time writing gig in the city was still that easy!

The writing in this chapter was really beautiful - probably the prettiest yet in the novel. Things are so lovingly described, with such fine attention to detail, that I forgive Helprin his occasional scene of telling us what the characters are thinking, instead of showing us. I could tell that a lot of foreshadowing was going on, and that the seeds of some larger themes were planted, but its still too early to tell which of them will become important; to tell what details are meant as symbolism instead of, for instance, mere quirk.

As for the characters, I'm already missing Peter Lake and Beverly Penn, but the characters of Book Two are endearing enough in their own right to hold me over. I get the feeling there is a major character who is about to be introduced . . . but that's mere speculation at this point.

Do any of you think you know where the novel is going to go? Have you picked up on any new themes in Book 2? If so, please share!

1 comment:

Night Writer said...

Now, let's not always see the same hands.

Oh, very well.

You're right, Wade, that it's hard to tell what is fore-shadowing and what is a quirk. Helprin's writing is so intricate and his descriptions are so detailed and lovely - and laid out so generously - that you don't know if everything is important or if nothing is.

Fwiw, pay attention to any reference to "justice". I'm also noticing a lot of descriptions of things as being like large animals and to vivid descriptions of colors that almost have a life of their own. Especially color. I was suspecting that MH's descriptions that include color have a deliberate message; in reading the section about Hardesty and the salver today (and thinking about an incident at the end of the book), I am certain of it.

Also, there are four gates to the city, four characters who will come to the city through these gates, and there are four virtues enscribed on the salver. I will be paying attention to how these link (or not).

One thing not to pay too much attention to, however, is the timeline. The ages of the various characters within the story aren't logical. (Jessica, btw, is Harry's daughter which would make Beverly her aunt). Harry can indeed be nearly 100 years old, but it's unlikely he'd be the father of someone Jessica's age; similarly Virginia's mother - who rode the sleigh with Peter Lake - would be too old to have had a daughter Virginia's age by the late 20th century. This has always bugged me (especially in the upcoming chapter "To the Soldiers and Sailors of Chelsea")and I've just accepted it as story-telling license. Perhaps, though, I shouldn't take so lightly the couple of off-hand references in the story so far to "stopping time and bringing back the dead".

By the way, did you recognize the fleeting glimpse of an old friend as Virginia was walking through Chinatown?

I'm sorry to be so voluble, but I love this story and I'm constantly inspired by it. I hope my comments are helpful and not distracting or discouraging to the effort.