Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Winter's Tale - "In the Drifts"

By far the most whimsical section of the novel so far, "In the Drifts" provides more of what The Lake of the Cooheries gave us - beautiful imagery, fantastical coincidences, natural disasters, and descriptions of New York City that make it sound intimidating to outsiders, but which are written in a way that only a native who loves the city could write them.

The story about how Havestry gets to New York City is the sort of 'magical realist' story that generates so many comparisons to Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Havestry's father leaves his fortune to one son, and a gold heirloom plate to the other, but he doesn't specify which son gets which gift. Instead, he leaves that decision up to Havestry. His decision to take the heirloom instead of the fortune is a surprise to the characters in the novel, but not to the readers, because if Havestry had accepted the money and retired comfortably, well, there would be no reason for him to be in the novel. His picaresque trip from San Francisco to upstate New York wasn't quite as amusing to me as Helprin probably intended it to be, but what happens after he gets to the Lake of Cooheries was fantastic - I won't ruin it for those of you who haven't finished the chapter yet. The scenes in New York City at the end of the chapter were written in the sort of nostalgic fashion in which the pre-World War I chapters were written, so I had to keep reminding myself that they were set in the mid-1990s, which, when the novel was written, was thirteen years in the future. The section about the vaudeville theater was interesting to me - the way in which the quality of the performers keeps declining as television got increasingly popular, and the Christina Hendricks-like owner of the boarding house who is so sexually overwhelming that all ten of the men she's been married to have died in the sack with her. Little details like that seem so bizarre at first, but, to the novel's fans, they are what elevates the book from "just another well-written literary novel" to a classic.

Some questions form this week's chapter:

What do you think of Havestry? Is he going to become as important of a character as Peter Lake? What other characters introduced in this chapter are going to stick around?

Justice is a major theme of the novel so far, but, though many of the characters search for it and claim to be motivated by it, but what do you make of the fact that there haven't been any scenes in which justice has been meted out?

Don't you wish some of those grand old buildings that Helprin describes still existed in New York City? Is it possible that they do exist, and we just never have an opportunity to go into them? Cipriani on 42nd street strikes me as the sort of elegant pre-war that it seems like every character in the novel lives and works in.

5 comments:

Ellen said...

So far, I am liking the second book much better than the first one. Hardesty's story wasn't all that surprising but the whimsy of it and his arrival in New York with all its fated switchbacks piqued my curiosity more than Peter Lake and the Penns. I don't think they're going away, either -- I get the sense Halperin is stowing them all away for a future chapter in which he can use them all. That's where I think the motif of justice is leading, too.

Wade Garrett said...

I agree. Its funny, because the people I know who really love this novel all talk about Peter Lake and Beverly Penn. Maybe they come back (and do more interesting stuff) in the next 400 pages or so. It wouldn't surprise me, because there are so many long sections of exposition in the first book.

Night Writer said...

Hardesty is a major character going forward and his trip to NY is one of the best parts of the book. The part with Jesse Honey is one of Helprin's most droll commentaries, and the scene of Hardesty in the top floor suite of the Hotel Lenore is so beautifully described I can picture myself standing right there next to him.

Interesting comment about justice, Wade. I don't think it's an accident that there are no scenes yet with justice being meted out: part of the point that Helprin is making (imho) is that we often can't see justice but it is waiting in the wings nonetheless. It is made up of a thousand little moments almost too small to notice until the grand movement is revealed.

Btw, following up on my earlier observation about the four gates to the city and the four characters yet to be introduced: Each of the four does enter from a different direction. Virginia from the north (the gate of selfless love); Hardesty from the west (the gate of the love of beauty). Two more have yet to arrive, one from the south (desire to explore) and the east gate (acceptance of responsibility). Let's watch as the story plays out and see if these gates have anything to do with the characters themselves.

I also love the Lake of the Coheeries and how, like the Bayonne Marsh in Book 1, it and its people seem to exist half-in and half-outside of reality.

Ben said...

I agree with Night Writer as to the Lake of the Cooheries and the Bayonne Marsh, but I would go a step further and say that even Helprin's New York City has one foot in the reality and the other in fantasy.

Night Writer said...

Great point, Ben. The description may be even more accurate for New York since it is, in fact, a very real place yet with all of these fantastic overlays, while L of C and the Marsh are purely mystical. Yet certain people can pass between one and the other readily or under special circumstances. Why is that?