Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 4, chapter 4 – “The White Dog of Afghanistan”)

Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 4, chapter 4 – “The White Dog of Afghanistan”)

When we left off, Praeger de Pinto had just clinched the election for Mayor of New York.  We pick up the story soon after, with Peter Lake.  He seems to be doing better; the fact that the man for whom he cast a dozen votes won the election makes him feel “like a power broker”.  He reinforces that feeling by buying a new suit from the best store in town (Fippo’s), getting a proper haircut and ridding himself of his derelict’s beard.

Now that he can see himself properly, he notices, somewhat to his surprise (if not to ours), that he’s got a kind face.  He doesn’t know how he might have become kind, but he chooses to run with it.  He’s got a nice apartment, a job he loves, a comforting daily ritual – everything a man could ask for.

Until, that is, one evening at his favorite restaurant (which he visits daily; Peter is nothing if not a creature of habit), he sees two strange men, dressed in bowler hats and old-fashioned clothes.  Peter doesn’t know why he can’t take his eyes off of them (but we do!).  The two Short Tails talk in low voices, but Peter is able to make out one phrase: “the White Dog of Afghanistan.”  He doesn’t remember hearing the phrase, but it still registers with him, and the next thing he knows, he’s in search of a dog.  A white dog. “A rather large white dog.  An heroic-sized dog,” he tells the owner of a pet shop.  He’s referred to another pet store, specializing in heroic-sized dogs, but even that doesn’t do the trick, and he’s informed that what he really must be looking for is a horse.

Peter agrees, and begins to scour the city in search of a white horse, not not just any old white horse.  He doesn’t know that he’s looking for Athansor, of course, but he obviously is.  He assembles a library to both calm his mind and aid in his search (an opportunity for Helprin to contribute to the Invisible Library).  My personal favorite among Peter’s new collection of equine literature is “Ride Like Hell, You Son of a Bitch” by Fulgura Franco.

Peter quickly becomes known at every stable in the city, as well as anyplace horses are sold at auction or shown on display.  In the course of his search, he repeatedly runs across Christiana Friebourg, who’s looking for precisely the same thing Peter is.  When they finally speak, they’re surprised to discover that they’re connected by the New York Sun, and also by their relationship to the Penn family.

The chapter ends (this is a short one) with Peter agreeing to take a look at the misbehaving engine of Asbury Gunwillow’s boat.  Since the boat belongs to The Sun, Peter reasons, it’s part of his job anyway:

as far as he could tell, taking care of The Sun’s engines was his reason for being.

Not much happens here, except for Peter regaining more of himself (a process that will accelerate as we make our way to the end of the story).  I think this chapter is, more than anything, a brief respite (as the next chapter will be, too) before we plunge headlong into the climax of the story.

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