Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Fistful of Reads: July Edition


Another month is through and I've finally wrapped my hands, and my mind, around Mark Helprin's 1983 epic, 'Winter's Tale'.  Beloved by it's readers, this classic novel was a mystery to me until I saw that Russell Crowe was starring in the film adaptation, due out later this year.  Once the book was on my radar, the reviews (mostly raves) that I skimmed on various sites had my appetite whet for what turned out to be one of the most rewarding reads of my life; no joke.  Of course, since much of this site reverts back to the subject of film, I'm going to get this out of the way right now...I don't think Oscar is going to bite this AT ALL.  I'd speculate the technical categories, since the breadth of this prose could lend itself to impressive feats, but the director and the huge margin for complete failure on the part of the adaptation itself leaves me questioning the quality of the end piece.  This is just too complex, too epic.  I'm not sure how this is going to translate, and there are so many ways in which this could go completely wrong.  If, and I mean IF, they nail this, then I could see it becoming another 'Lord of the Rings' and steamrolling the nominations with nods in Picture, Director, Screenplay as well as nearly every tech and possibly a Supporting Actor nod for Russell Crowe (Pearly Soames is the flashiest and easily the most engaging character).

Still, I don't see that happening, and even if this opens to respectable reviews I think it would need to be a massive hit in order to generate any real traction, and so far nothing has been said or really seen on the film outside of some set pics and so it looks like buzz and anticipation, outside of those anxious to see how their beloved piece of literature translates onto the big screen, is pretty much dead.

But I'm here to talk about the book!

There are very few books that have engulfed me quite like ‘Winter’s Tale’.  Written in the most poetic nature possible, this rapturous novel spans a century and evokes such richly detailed textures that one cannot help but become endeared to each page.  A mystic New York City presents a beautiful canvas for this epic prose revolving around forbidden love, undying wrath, fallen angels and a mythical horse.  With each turned page my interest was piqued, and with each newly introduced character my mind was blown with how connective this novel remained.

Mark Helprin’s unique novel tells the story of Peter Lake, a thief who falls in love with a beautiful young woman, Beverly, doomed to an early death.  Despite their love, he cannot save her, but in her death she saves him, protecting him from the wrath of Pearly Soames, a gang leader with an affection for bright colors.  Peter forms a relationship with a large white horse that can fly and the two of them together serve as an irritant for Pearly.  Flash-forward nearly a hundred years and we are introduced to a young couple associated with Beverly’s family and dueling newspapers who have political ties with three strange men from years past who have a dark secret and a unique mission.

Everything wears this veil of fantasy while remaining remarkably grounded in reality.  This is a fantasy story FOR adults, resulting in something that feels more human and ‘possible’ while being completely impossible.

Dripping with religious and political subtext, Helprin’s novel is truly epic in scope and delivers something VERY different to the reader.  I have honestly never read anything quite like this, and I’m not sure I ever will again.  I have never finished a novel and wanted to start over immediately, but the other night I debated reading this a second time through after finishing the last sentence.  The thing is, I’m still processing what this all means, and the great thing about ‘Winter’s Tale’ is that I feel as though the meaning is truly ambiguously open-ended, which makes the impact more universal.  There are no easy answers, and many of the questions raised and not directly answered despite hints here and there and a epilogue that attempts to give us some closure.  Still, the story carries so much weight and really feels ‘important’.

At 750 pages, Helprin’s poetic structure is completely engaging.  I never wanted to put the book down and I’m sad that it is over.  I cannot wait to read this again.  I don’t think I can recommend this enough.  

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