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.