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New York City is subsumed in arctic winds, dark nights, and white lights, its life unfolds, for it is an extraordinary hive of the imagination, the greatest house ever built, and nothing exists that can check its vitality. One night in winter, Peter Lake, orphan and master-mechanic, attempts to rob a fortress-like mansion on the Upper West Side.
Though he thinks the house is empty, the daughter of the house is home. Thus begins the love between Peter Lake, a middle-aged Irish burglar, and Beverly Penn, a young girl, who is dying.
Peter Lake, a simple, uneducated man, because of a love that, at first he does not fully understand, is driven to stop time and bring back the dead. His great struggle, in a city ever alight with its own energy and besieged by unprecedented winters, is one of the most beautiful and extraordinary stories of American literature.
769 pages, Paperback
First published September 20, 1983
The last thing Mrs. Gamely said to her daughter was, “Remember, what we are trying to do in this life is to shatter time and bring back the dead.”Winter’s Tale is a BIG book. I refer not only to its 748-page length, but to its ambition. It is a big book about big ideas, and it takes some big characters to realize the author’s ambition. There are a few here.
Well, we've been mechanized. We view ourselves as mechanisms. This is a trend since The Enlightenment. The Enlightenment, in my view, has two streams - a good stream and a bad stream. The good stream is the beauty of reason, to approach something via scientific method, via logic. The ugly part of The Enlightenment is that if you confine yourselves to those methods, then you are limiting yourself in terms of your understanding of what a human soul is. By necessity, because you cannot define the soul as it's not subject to proof, human beings become mechanisms. Without faith, a person is a mechanism, and then there's no reason he shouldn't be treated or work under those assumptions, as a mechanism. - from Contemporary Lit interviewIs there some underlying logic to our universe, machines, physical, psychic or spiritual that whirr, turn and grind to support everything?
“Apart from natural laws, from the world as we know it,” Hardesty speculated, “maybe there are laws of organization which bind us to patterns that we can’t see and to tasks that we don’t perceive.”And Helprin takes a long view of things
“Churchmen,” she had said, “like Boissy d’Anglas, burn themselves up in seeking, and they find nothing. If your faith is genuine, then you meet your responsibilities, fulfill your obligations, and wait until you are found. It will come. If not to you, then to your children, and if not to them, then to their children.”Helprin posits a world or worlds in which the select few can see and access an underlying reality, and it is not clear that there is a path to this understanding other than dumb luck. One must wonder if the writers of The Matrix or promoters of born-again-isms had Helprin in mind.
her strength was not derived from things which can be catalogued or reasonably discussed. She had an inexplicable lucidity, a power to see things for what they were. Somehow she had come into possession of a pure standard. It was as if lightning had struck the ground in front of her and had been frozen and prolonged until she could see along its bright and transparent shaft all the way to its absolute source.No, this is not taken from the Left Behind series and Bev was not bitten by an irradiated spider.
“…these winters have not been for nothing. They are the plough. The wind and the stars are harrowing the land and battering the city. I feel it and can see it in everything. The animals know it is coming. The ships in the harbor rush about and have come alive because it is coming. I may be dead wrong but I do believe that every act has significance, and that, in our time, all the ceaseless thunder is not for nothing.”There is the potential for greatness in cities, this one in particular, but there must be a blood-letting in order to usher in a new golden age, and that seems perfectly fine for the god of this novel.
The universe is still and complete. Everything that ever was, is; everything that ever will be, is—and so on, in all possible combinations. Though in perceiving it we imagine that it is in motion, and unfinished, it is quite finished and quite astonishingly beautiful. In the end, or, rather, as things really are, any event, no matter how small, is intimately and sensibly tied to all others. All the lost ones are redeemed; the dead come back to life; the perfectly blue days that have begun and ended in golden dimness continue, immobile and accessible; and, when all is perceived in such a way as to obviate time, justice becomes apparent not as something that will be, but as something that is.And it’s just tough luck on those who fall afoul of the currents of time. If you are rich, then I guess you were meant to be, and if you were dirt poor, well, sorry, it was always thus. It does strike me that this is a point of view that might be favored by those who have landed in the cushier seats.
But, whereas the wall was white, the city was a palette of upwelling colors. Its forms and geometry entranced him—the orange blaze in clear upper windows; a gas lamp’s green and white bell-like glare; leaping tongues of fire; red-hot booming chambers in the charcoal; shoe-black horses trotting airily at the head of varnished carriages; peaked and triangular roofs; the ballet of the crowds as they took stairs, turned corners, and forged across streets; the guttural noise of machinery…sails that filled the ends of streets with billows of white or sharp angular planes, and then collapsed into the bordering buildings or made of themselves a guillotineBlue and gold come in for particular and much-repeated attention. Stars shine brightly here as well, whether the actual universe of stars or their simulacra in a large chamber or a magical painting. Bridges and rainbows carry significance as well. Machines are also more than mere mechanisms.
The city exploded upon him, bursting through the ring of white shells that crowned his head. He staggered about the fire and tumult of Broadway and the Bowery, not understanding everything he saw. For instance, a man turned a handle on a box, and music came out, while a small being, half-animal and half-man, danced about on the street and collected things in his hat.
They gave themselves up to the stars the way swimmers can surrender to the waves, and the stars took them without resistance.
Climbing up on Solsbury Hill
I could see the city light
Wind was blowing, time stood still
Eagle flew out of the night
He was something to observe
Came in close, I heard a voice
Standing, stretching every nerve
I had to listen had no choice
I did not believe the information
I just had to trust imagination
My heart going boom, boom, boom
Son, he said, grab your things I've come to take you home