Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 3, chapter 2 – “Peter Lake Returns”)

Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 3, chapter 2 – “Peter Lake Returns”)

The action of part 3 picks up, naturally in the midst of a brutal – yet beautiful – winter.  It’s the first such winter after “several” years without any real, proper winters.  (Helprin is playing loosely with time here, but, given what he told us in the previous chapter, that’s hardly a surprise).  But for pedantry’s sake: Virginia arrived in Manhattan at the end of 1994 (we can be relatively certain of this because Hardesty arrives at Mrs. Gamely’s home during the second brutal Coheeries winter in a row, and he doesn’t end up there until a few months after September of 1995),  So by “several years” Helprin can’t mean more than two, because we’re in 1998 now).

We step back into the plot aboard the Staten Island Ferry.  The boat is stuck in the ice of the harbor and returning to Manhattan, when a passenger spots something fall from the sky with a bright streak of light.  He points out where he saw it land, and, sure enough, someone is out there.  A wounded man, with sword cuts all over his body, and, he thinks, possibly bullet wounds, too.  But he doesn’t know who he is, who might have given him the wounds, or how he ended up in the harbor (Helprin doesn’t play with the reader, though – he tells us that this is Peter Lake right from he start).

Peter doesn’t recognize himself in the mirror, and passes out just as he’s brought to a waiting ambulance when the ferry docks.  He wakes up sometime later, handcuffed to a bed in St. Vincent’s Hospital (the same hospital Hardesty makes a note of when he walks past it a couple of chapters ago).  He can’t understand what’s going on – he doesn’t recognize plastic, or the computer monitors showing his vital signs, and when one of the doctors mentions identifying him via fingerprints, he has no idea what those are.  He’s sedated after he mouths off at the doctor, and doesn’t wake again for five days.  When he does, he’s no longer chained to the bed, and he finds a strange young woman at his bedside.  He assumes she’s a teenager, probably from another ward of the hospital (due to the “slingshot” in her pocket that he doesn’t recognize as a stethoscope; and also due to the fact that, being used to the world of 1915, he has no idea that women can be doctors).

After a confused, but pleasant, conversation, she sedates him again.  When he awakes the next time – much sooner than she expects, and almost completely healed, although that ought to be impossible – he realizes that she truly is a doctor.  He also takes note of the monitors and how their lights and beeping correspond to his activity.  He begins to form an idea, that it is no longer 1915.  He impresses the doctor by his healing, and also by his knowing what time it is despite not having a clock nearby.  He can tell by the sound of the police horses – it’s a shift change, and knowing how far the hospital is from the stables.  And the doctor confirms he’s correct.  But he throws her for a loop when he asks about the El.  She has no idea what he’s talking about.  He explains – elevated trains.  But there aren’t any.

“Oh, maybe in the Bronx, or Brooklyn somewhere.  But not in downtown Manhattan.”

Certainly not in 1998.  Peter convinces her to let him see for himself.  She unhooks his IV, and, when he asks, tells him what year it is.  Then she leads him to the roof.

“If this is a joke, I’ll kill you,” she said, wondering how she could believe what she believed and think what she had thought.

Peter visualizes what he knows ought to be out there when the door opens.  But he knows it’s not so.

“It’s funny,” Peter Lake stated.  “I don’t think that this notion I have could be so, but I’m afraid to open the door.”

“Just push it,” she said.

He did.

And we end on that.  We know what Peter will see, but I love the way Helprin leaves us just at that moment without going farther.  It’s a perfect ending to the chapter.

And now we’ve got both Peter and Athansor in the modern world, ready to take their places alongside Virginia and Hardesty and everyone else we met in part 2.  We also know for certain now (as with Athansor) that the transition from 1915 to the end of the 20th century was instantaneous; they both return with all the wounds they suffered in the fight against Pearly on the Brooklyn Bridge still fresh.

The one criticism I have of this chapter is that Peter’s doctor is a one-shot character.  We don’t get a name for her, and we won’t see her again in the book, which is a shame.  She’s a great character, and I’d personally like to know a lot more about her.  And I think she could easily have played some sort of role in the events that will come.

But we’ll have to leave her behind, and pick up the story of Hardesty and Virginia in the next chapter…

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3 Replies to “Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 3, chapter 2 – “Peter Lake Returns”)”

  1. I’m with you on being at least slightly disappointed that the woman doctor won’t be heard from subsequently. This was a very enjoyable chapter for me because it seemed to read a lot quicker than the previous ones. My hypothesis for that is that this is one of the first chapters where we, the readers, are familiar with the setting (at least relatively so) and it’s the character, Peter Lake, who has to be brought up to speed with his surroundings. Prior to this it’s been a historical scene and/or an at least partially imaginary one.

    1. That’s a great point. There’s been a ton of stage-setting and worldbuilding, and now Helprin can start really hitting the accelerator on the plot.

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