Book Review–Winter’s Tale

I read Winter’s Tale by Mark Halprin (1983) over the holidays, all 768 pages. This is a visionary story of the beauty and complexity inherent in the human soul, about God, love, death and justice and the power of dreams, those that take place while we sleep and those we conceive while awake. As I read this book, I found myself lifted above some emotionally rough patches I was experiencing. It was the sheer scope of it all, which to me translated to a much greater concept of what the mainline consciousness believes to be reality, albeit in an ungrounded fantastical way, like this passage: “.  . . but now with the blessing, amnesty, and encouragement that good climbers requisition from the thin air, he ascended a nearly sheer column in the interior of the Grand Central Terminal.”

The story takes place in a mythic New York City near the turn of the 20th century, in an industrial Victorian era style and opens with a tiny isolated quote three-quarters of the way down the first page: “I have been to another world, and come back. Listen to me.”

When asked if the book could be called magic realism, Mark Halprin responded that it is as much as the Bible can be called magic realism. Intriguing. Everything about this book defies anything I’ve read before.

Here’s a short summary from Amazon:

“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 beseiged by unprecedented winters, is one of the most beautiful and extraordinary stories of American literature.”

6 thoughts on “Book Review–Winter’s Tale

  1. Rossandra, you’ve stumbled across my favorite author. I’ve read this book three times. I have it in first edition signed and my biggest connection to NY is this author. I even lived along the Hudson Valley for two years, walking it in pure snow to evoke moments in this novel. (That wasn’t my entire goal but a huge part of it in living in the Hudson Valley.) Beginning a novel from the point of view of a horse – all I can say is F – YEAH. I’ve experienced Grand Central in a new way – imagining Peter living in the rafters. I am hoping Helprin’s and my path will cross one day, if only to exchange the love for NY. He is an artist first, a wordsmith and weaves magic into a story so subtlety, you don’t even know it doesn’t exist in real life. A Soldier of the Great War is my second fave. His short stories in Dove of the East will not disappoint. Thanks for the review and revival of a great author.

    1. Wow, a signed first Edition! Yeah, I agree with you about the horse, my favourite character in the book. Even though I’ve only been to New York three times, briefly, I hope to spend a little more time there and will definitely see and experience it differently, thanks to Mr. Helprin. I’ll have to check out A Soldier of the Great War.

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