Jonathan's Reviews > Freddy and Fredericka

Freddy and Fredericka by Mark Helprin
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Mar 02, 09

bookshelves: general-fiction
Recommended for: all readers
Read in March, 2008, read count: 2

I was already a devoted fan of Mark Helprin when this novel was released, so when I saw it on the shelves I bought it immediately. I expected I would encounter a tale sweeping in scope, full of deeply human characters, and all spun forth in the rich, dazzling prose that is Helprin's inimitable style. And while all these hallmarks are indeed present, Helprin has decided to turn them on their collective ear, and the result is something delightfully unexpected.

To explain, and by way of summary, the titular characters are the Prince and Princess of Wales, sent anonymously to America after a series of embarrassing mishaps to re-conquer the wayward colonies for the Crown. Taking this improbable set-up and running full-speed with it, Helprin leads his heroes, and the reader, down as bizarre a journey of self-discovery as any author since Cervantes. And while Helprin's quixotic humor is quite at home in all his works, here it is given the spotlight. The wide cast of characters larger than life, almost to the point of caricature. Dialogue flows like an improv comedy show; ludicrously improbable coincidences abound. One could argue that Helprin is intentionally parodying his own, more serious style. And yet the book remains light and fun; the reader in invited to take part in the hilarity, and condescension is nowhere to be found.

Despite its playfulness, this is still a Helprin novel, and there are still very serious themes to be found. Though the couple's circumstances are quite outlandish, they are still forced into painful self-evaluation. The stranger their lives become, the more strongly they must hold on to each other. Freddy's journey is meant to prepare him to be King of England; it is in learning to love his wife with all his heart that he is finally transformed into that role.

At its heart, Freddy and Fredericka is indeed what all Helprin’s books are: a love story. The absurdly stylized context simply serves to throw the emotional underscoring into sharper relief. And so, in the final analysis, I'll chalk up one more fantastic effort from one of the greatest authors of our time.
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