Tag: Winter’s Tale

Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 4, chapter 7 – “For the Soldiers and Sailors of Chelsea”)

Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 4, chapter 7 – “For the Soldiers and Sailors of Chelsea”)

Sorry for the long, long delay

Anyway, we’re here, so let’s get moving!  If you want to catch up with the previous chapters, they’re all here:

Links to All Chapters

We’re in the final sprint to the end now, and we open this (short-ish) chapter with Harry Penn.  He’s thinking deep thoughts, as someone in his position might well be expected to do:

He wanted miracles.  He wanted life where there was no life, the negation of time,and the gliding of the universe – if only for one truly wonderful moment.

While in this mood, he’s visited by his daughter, Jessica.  They talk about her acting, and how she learns her lines:

“Only bad actors memorize lines.  Good actors are perpetually writing them as they act.”

“Even though the playwright has already written them.”  She nodded her head.  “Isn’t that presumptuous?”

“The playwright understands.”

I don’t think they’re just talking about the theater.  Doesn’t that sound a lot like what Helprin tells us in the chapter “Nothing is Random” ?  Everything has happened, and yet it is still happening.  There is both predestination and free will.

As they talk, Praeger de Pinto arrives, and Harry Penn has a revelation.  He has remembered Peter Lake, and realized that the man he knew nearly a century ago was also the derelict they encountered at Petipas a few months ago.  And now he knows what he has to do.  He orders Praeger to get a sleigh, and to drive him up to Lake of the Coheeries.  The newly-elected Mayor of New York does as he’s told, and off they go.

On the ride, Harry and Praeger talk, and it’s clear that Harry Penn has begin to see with somerthing of the clarity gifted to his long-dead sister.

“If you know only a dozen winters, it looks completely chaotic.  But after a hundred you begin to see where certain patterns surface and intersect.  I always know the weather.  That’s easy.”

Praeger asks if human relations can be similarly predicted.

“Not so easy, but possible.”

And history?  “Very difficult,” according to Harry.  But he doesn’t say it’s impossible.

After a day’s journey, they arrive on the Lake of the Coheeries, to find the town completely dark, which never happens.  Harry knows what this means, and, soon enough, they begin finding the bodies – everyone in town, victims of what appears to have been a terrible battle.

Harry and Praeger proceed to the Penn house, which was left untouched by the battle (with the Short Tails).  But that doesn’t matter, according to Harry:

“They wouldn’t have taken the one important thing, and as for damage, well, damage will soon be of little moment.”

Harry leads Praeger past the portraits of all his relatives.

“I could tell you the name of each one, and a lot more than that, too, because they were people I loved.  They’re all gone now.  But even they may be surprised  – when they awaken.”

Recall what Mrs. Gamely tells Virginia way back in Part 2, about trying to “shatter time and bring back the dead.”  Harry believes that’s precisely what’s going to happen, and soon.  He mentions Beverly’s death, and her deathbed instructions, to be carried out the next time Harry saw Peter Lake.  And note what Harry says:

“He left right after she died, and though we expected him to return at any moment, he never did, and i never saw him again – until Petipas.”

We;ve talked about how Peter Lake seems to fulfilll the role of the Jewish Messiah, but Harry speaks of him in Christian terms – doesn’t that sound a lot like the Second Coming?

Harry and Praeger carry out Beverly’s last instruction – they take down the portraits of her and Peter Lake, and then set fire to the house, and then the rest of the town of Lake of the Coheeries, before setting off back towards Manhattan.

Back there, we rejoin Hardesty, who’s still in Grand Central Station, and decides to see who – or what – is behind the trap door in the sky.  He ends up climbing all the way up by hand, and finds himself outside the door of Peter Lake’s hideaway.  He commences throwing himself at the door with all his strength, which startles Peter – just at the moment that Peter’s reading through an old Police Gazette featuring a picture of him from nearly a century ago.  Distracted, Peter fails to see himself, and instead waits to see who – or what – is attacking his door.

After half an hour, the door finally gives way, and Hardesty bursts inside, and promptly collapses.  After a couple of moments of confused conversation, they recognize each other from that early evening dinner at Petipas.

“Who are you?” Peter Lake asked.

Hardesty shook his head.  “That doesn’t matter,”  he said.  “Who are you?”

We leave Hardesty and Peter and visit Jackson Mead, who has just

unleashed all the forces he had been preparing and conserving, in a mad, bone-shaking spectacle.

The spectacle will continue for ten days, until the turn of the Millennium, and it will go on even as New York is

consumed by fire and civil disorder occasioned by the rainbow bridge itself.

And that takes us back to Gotterdammerung, of course – where Valhalla is consumed by fire, and that outcome is preordained the moment the ring is stolen, and the Gods cross the Rainbow Bridge in Das Rheingold.

Mead’s spectacle includes an “armada” of ships, hundreds of helicopters equipped with hypnotic lights and emitting deafening sounds, and a variety of other wonders.  His strategy is to

make each hour more intense than the one that preceded it.

It’s working admirably, too.

As this goes on, we check in on Virginia Gamely, who’s sitting with her stricken daughter.  She’s dreaming, and in her dream, she finds herself in an old, dusty tenement – in this dream, she herself is the dying child that Peter Lake saw way back in Part 1.  This is interesting, because we’ve seen Virginia dream several times over the course of the book, and every time, her dream is of something yet to come (and what she dreamed generally happens just as she dreamed it).  This time, she’s dreaming of something that happened nearly a century ago, something she couldn’t possibly know about – yet she’s dreaming it quite accurately.  I take it as yet another indication of the past, present and future all being connected – all being one thing when seen from a far enough distance.

What does it mean, though?  Is this dream (vision?) presaging Abby’s fate?

Her mother is there, too, and urges Virginia to take a walk and get some fresh air.  Virginia asks where Mrs. Gamely had been (she hadn’t been at Abby’s bedside when Virginia fell asleep), and she explains that she was at a lecture given by Craig Binky.

“I rather liked him, though his vocabulary needs a great deal of work.”

(for his part, Binky also noticed Mrs. Gamely, and was immediately entranced by her, even dispatching his bodyguards to find her for him)

Together, they wander around Manhattan, finally ending up in Chelsea, at a statue dedicated to soldiers of World War I (with the inscription “For the soldiers and sailors of Chelsea”).  Mrs. Gamely reminds Virginia of a long-ago visit here.  Mrs. Gamely had taken a very young Virginia to greet her father, who was supposed to be returning from “the war” – but which one?  We discussed this back in Part 2.  When we first meet Virginia (in 1994), she’s in her mid 30’s.  That would place her birth in 1960 or so, and therefore the incident Mrs. Gamely talks about would take place in the late 60’s or maybe as late as 1970.  But history as we know it doesn’t jibe with that.

My guess is that it’s World War 2 – that would fit with Mrs. Gamely’s description of troopships returning to New York, and also with the idea that Harry Penn was the commander of a regiment.  That also fits with the nature of Lake of the Coheeries and its uncertain relationship with time.

Mrs. Gamely explains that it was Harry who delivered the terrible news of Theodore Gamely’s death, and that poor Virginia’s reaction made him cry.  Mrs. Gamely is surprised that he never brought it up to Virginia in the five years she’s worked for him:

“There was nothing I could do to make him fire me.  I guess that’s the way he brought it up.”

Mrs. Gamely understands that, although Virginia doesn’t.  When Virginia wonders what it was all for, her mother answers:

“A benevolent act is like a locust.  It sleeps until it is called.”

She then goes on to remind Virginia (and us) that we may not live to see the repercussions of our acts, and that nothing is guaranteed to us – but we have to try anyway.  As she puts it:

“You may not find a way to save your child.  But you have to try.  You owe it to her, and you owe it in general.”

And that’s where we end this chapter.  Virginia has been given, if not hope, than at least a strong push to keep fighting.  And although she has no way to know it, her husband may have found the key to saving Abby – and Peter Lake may have finally, after a century, found a child he can save.

And, again, we see that the past and future are connected – Peter’s inability to find the child in the tenement, and his powerlessness over Beverly’s illness, was, maybe, just preparation for something yet to come.  Virginia’s dream/vision would seem to fit in with that.  But we’ll see what happens in the final two chapters…




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Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 4, chapter 6 – “Ex Machina”)

Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 4, chapter 6 – “Ex Machina”)

Onwards to the climax of “Winter’s Tale” – we’re down to the last four chapters.  This chapter’s title is a play on the phrase “Deus ex Machina”, but Helprin has edited that down.  Instead of “God from the machine” (an ending in which something completely out of the blue happens to resolve the story – the hand of God setting things aright), we simply have “from the machine.”  Given everything we’ve seen so far, I think we’re meant to take this as the city – the great machine – creating itself.  And maybe creating perfect justice, too.  The very first sentence talks about the Last Judgment, after all.

After a couple of pages of discussion about that topic, we move to Praeger de Pinto’s inauguration as Mayor of New York.  He gives a compelling speech, echoing themes we’ve seen throughout the book.  Note this especially:

“We learn that justice may not always follow a just act, that justice can sleep for years and awaken when it is least expected, that a miracle is nothing more than dormant justice from another time arriving to compensate those it has cruelly abandoned.  Whoever knows this is willing to suffer, for he knows that nothing is in vain.”

And then he ends the speech with:

“Now, let me tell you about the bridge that Jackson Mead is going to build.”

And he does so.  The bridge will be made of light, in a beam of “infinite power”.  And where will the bridge go?

“Though one foot of the arc will rest upon the Battery, he would not say where this bridge will lead, preferring to leave that to my imagination – as I will leave it to yours.”

I think it’s safe to assume that the bridge is intended to lead directly to Heaven.

The crowd is stunned by this pronouncement, and then something even more stunning happens.  Praeger is given his mayoral name.  He’s afraid of what the Council of Elders will say, but he’s exalted above his wildest dreams.

“What we say here is not necessarily the future.  We are not that wise.  But we, like you, can dream.”

So what do they dub Praeger?  The Gold Mayor.  Which is even more momentous than Praeger thinks, given the emphasis on gold throughout the book.

We shift gears to Abby Marratta, who’s now in the hospital.  Second, third and tenth opinions were obtained, and finally Hardesty gets the diagnosis (which isn’t named, but it’s obviously consumption).  Hardesty considers his situation.  He recalls not fighting to save his father, and how his father approved of that self-restraint:

“I’m glad to see you know enough to conserve your courage for when it’s really needed.”

Hardesty and Virginia agree that they can’t simply accept the death sentence proclaimed upon their daughter.  They’re both more than willing to believe in miracles, although they also both realize there must be a cost:

“I think it would be vain to imagine that we could be favored without effort.  As I understand it, miracles come to those who risk defeat in seeking them.  They come to those who have exhausted themselves completely in a struggle to accomplish the impossible.

(there’s an interesting paraphrase to this in one of Stephen R. Donaldson’s books.  In “The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant”, a character remarks that “Attempts must be made, even when there can be no hope.  The alternative is despair.  And betimes some wonder is wrought to redeem us.”)

We jump over to Peter Lake, who’s out on the ice, and headed to the Bayonne Marsh to see what he might remember.  But he never makes it there, because he discovers that there are men skating after him.  He doesn’t know who they are, yet, but it rings a bell nonetheless:

Peter Lake was glad to find himself in what seemed like a familiar situation.

He seeks to evade them by heading to another of the temporary cities on the ice, this one under the Brooklyn Bridge.  Unlike the more pleasant frozen city from the last chapter, this one, a neutral ground between Manhattan and the city of the poor, is a squalid, terrible place:

Though the contact between the rich and the poor might have brought about a positive exchange, it was the grosser appetites of each that sent them to the city on the ice.

While hiding from his pursuers, he finally remembers who they are: Short Tails.  And he can’t help but call out their name, which gets their attention and renews the chase.  He makes it back to Manhattan, and seems to run into more Short Tails nearly everywhere.  He can’t go back to his apartment; he knows that they know who he is and assumes they know his habits, even though he still doesn’t know why they’re after him:

He knew that they were called Short Tails, and that their job was to chase him, but he didn’t know why

He remembers something else – Grand Central Station.  He heads there, and looks up at the stars, dark now for decades, hanging in the sky.  Led by instinct and forgotten memory, he heads up to the sky, to a little door, with a lock he can easily pick (and which he himself installed nearly a century before).  He throws the switch, turning the stars back on, and he sees his hideaway, just as he left it back in 1915.

And then we’re back to Hardesty.  He’s trying to:

learn the feel of the impossible, so that he might know what to do when the time came when no one ever knows what to do.

He picks a fight with a pair of armed robbers, and then goes to a pool hall, seeks out the best player in the place, challenges him to a single game for $10,000 (with only $8 in his pocket) and announces he’s going to win the whole game right off the first break.  This is a great sequence, and I really enjoy Hardesty’s method of calculating precisely what to do.

It works, of course, but whatever wisdom he was hoping to find does not come to him.  After days of this sort of activity, Hardesty finds himself in a gym, and, looking up, sees a disc of golden light directly under the domed roof of the place, with a climbing rope hanging down.  He heads up the rope, determined to reach that disc, which is ever more enticing.

In climbing, he found the compound mortal agonies that he had sought, and as he moved higher on the golden rope he really did rise.

Just as St. Stephen did.

He reaches nearly to the top, and the rope bursts into flames – but they do not burn him, instead they heal his bloodied hands.  He tries to push himself into the golden disc, to see what is beyond it, and he’s pushed back, cast off the rope – but he’s carried gently down on unseen wings – angels, in his estimation.

He passes out, but awakens later, on the floor, unharmed, and he emerges into the streets, where, eventually, the moving crowds of pedestrians carry him into Grand Central Station.  He – unlike everyone else – notices the stars, lit for the first time in memory.  And he notices something else – a crack in the sky.  He realizes what it is – an access door in the ceiling, and he watches until it opens, and then opens again.  And, finally, he sees a face emerge and peer down.

And that’s where we end things.  Hardesty, in his extremity, sees something similar to what Beverly saw, and what Isaac Penn reported just before he died, and what Athansor remembers.  Another world beyond this one, a golden world.  He can’t force his way there, though – he’s pushed away from Heaven, sent back down to Earth.  He feels that he’s failed his daughter, but he hasn’t – it’s just not the right time yet.  But that time – the moment of perfect justice – may be nearly at hand.  And I don’t think it’s any coincidence that just at his moment of despair, he finds Peter Lake, amidst a sky of stars that has just been lit for the first time in decades.

Note the way everything is tied together – Praeger, the Gold Mayor, and golden light in a gym filled with the wings of angels, and then Peter Lake, dwelling invisibly in the back of the sky and causing the light to blaze forth.  That certainly tracks with Peter being, if not the messiah, then at least a direct insturment of God.  As a Christian hymn has it, “Immortal, invisible, God only wise, In light inaccessible hid from our eyes.”

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Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 4, chapter 5 – “Abysmillard Redux”)

Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 4, chapter 5 – “Abysmillard Redux”)

We’ve got one more short chapter before Helprin really puts his foot on the accelerator and doesn’t let up for the remainder of the book.

We open with Craig Binky, who’s in poor spirits.  Praeger de Pinto turned on him during the recently-ended mayoral campaign.  He still has no idea what’s in the giant ship out in the river, and he’s lost face with his wealthy friends by losing out in the faddish game of church-buying (the half-dozen Baptist churches he bought are “a pretty poor showing”).

He resolves to do something about his ignorance of the ship, at least, but, as with most Binkian schemes, things don’t go quite as planned.  He spends $100,000 to find out the names of Jackson Mead, Reverend Mootfowl and Mr. Cecil Wooley, which everyone else already knows.  He then (this is one of the few points where the book really dates itself) goes to seek information from the “National Computer.”  It’s not really fair to knock the author, though, considering the commonly-understood state of computer technology when he wrote the book.

At any rate, even though he pays $1,000,000 just to ask one question of the machine, he gets no answer.

He knew no thing of Jackson Mead, and everyone else did.

Even the lowliest, most abysmal creature knows – even Abysmillard, who we met way back in part one.  He’s one of the Baymen – the last of them, having survived to the end of the second millennium.  Helprin takes us through Abysmlllard’s long and unspeakably sad journey through the century.  He had no friends, no companions:

The Baymen were not famous for bathing, and, in not bathing, Abysmillard was their champion by far.  He had to have his own hut on his own acre, and this for the sake of people who liked to eat live eels.

Despite his monstrous, disgusting nature, and the fact that even people who ate live eels were repulsed by him, Abysmillard harbored a secret belief that one day, he would

become a bright and graceful creature that everyone loved.  As the years passed, he waited for his own molting, infused with a single purpose and strengthened by a single expectation.

Eventually, this comes to pass.  Over the decades, as the Baymen are killed off by the constant encroaching of civilization, he lives on.  Finally, now, only weeks before the turn of the millennium, he’s the only one left.  Abysmillard is forced from his home, such as it is, by the construction of Jackson Mead’s bridge.  Abysmillard sees what is being done, and he recalls the songs of the Baymen, specifically the Thirteenth Song, which describes the last days

when a solid rainbow springs from the ice to leap the white curtain, and on its arc of beating lights are a thousand smiling steps.

Will Mead’s Rainbow Bridge be a literal rainbow?  Abysmillard thinks so, but he won’t be around to see it.  He’s forced further from his home in search of food, and, alone on the ice, he takes his final walk.

New York Harbor, meanwhile, is filled with people.  It’s completely frozen over, and a whole impromptu city forms on the ice.  But one morning, after all the tents and people have vanished, Peter Lake and Asbury Gunwillow are at work on the Sun’s motor launch, and Asbury spots something out on the ice.  It looks like, and in fact is, a person.  A man, frozen to death.

And Peter recognizes Abysmillard, who was there when he was found by the Baymen, a century ago.  He explains who they were and how they lived.

“He must have been the last one,” Asbury said, unnerved by the savage and unfamiliar face of Abysmillard.

“No,” said Peter Lake.  “I am.”

And on that upsetting and prophetic note, the chapter ends.  It certainly seems that we’re headed for something apocalyptic.  The Baymen song talks of the “last days’ and we witness their near extinction in this chapter.  Praeger foresees an Armageddon-like battle that’s been put off for a century or more but is now unavoidable.  And for the Wagnerians, remember that the seemingly triumphant end of Das Rhinegold, with the Gods crossing the Rainbow Bridge, leads directly to their end in fire and water at the climax of Gotterdammerung.

And it all starts with the next chapter…


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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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Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 4, chapter 3 – “White Horse and Dark Horse”)

Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 4, chapter 3 – “White Horse and Dark Horse”)

We open right where we left off in the previous chapter, and we pay a visit to Athansor, still toiling away in his mill deep in the city of the poor.  He’s been at it for over a year and

he had lost his sense of time and come to believe that he was winding up an eternal spring, to which others from the starry meadows had been apprenticed long and often.

I suspect that’s exactly what he has been doing.  He circles endlessly, ignoring opportunities to escape, paying little notice to the faces that would peer down at him.  The monotony gets to him, and

He half wished that a head would pop up from behind the fence and give him something to worry about.

And one night, his half-wish is granted: Athansor feels the presence of someone watching him, and when he sees who it is, he stops for the first time in fourteen months.  He breaks the bonds tying him to the beam, and the beam itself, at the sight of Pearly Soames.

We knew he’d be back, and here he is, electric eyes and all.

“You don’t know how long I’ve been looking for you, horse.”

Athansor smashes through the walls of his prison and knocks Pearly aside, galloping off into the night.  Pearly is pleased:

“That’s right, you marble bastard.  You find him for me.  Take me right to him.”

So here’s a question: has Pearly lived through the whole of the 20th century, taking “the slow route” (as it’s sometimes put in “Doctor Who”) to catch up to Peter Lake?  Or was he, too, plucked from his proper time by the cloud wall and deposited in the New York of 1998?  I’m not sure, but the presence of his Short Tails at his back suggests the latter.  Pearly may well be a little bit more than merely human and able to live through a century without showing a bit of age, but I don’t think the rest of his gang is capable of that trick..

We leave him and focus on Praeger and his odd, improbable campaign for Mayor.  When an early snow blankets the city in October, Praeger celebrates it, talking about it in all his speeches and slowly rising in the polls.  That’s just a brief interlude (we’ll get back to the campaign shortly), before we rejoin Hardesty, who’s preparing with Virgnia to make the long-delayed trip up to Lake of the Coheeries.  He fetches a sleigh and horse, coaxes a reluctant Abby out of her hiding place in the linen closet, and the family sets off.

The trip is gorgeously described (a mirror of Virginia’s journey to Manhattan way back in part two).  It’s a serene trip, the Marrattas all getting lost in the night and the hypnotic rhythm of the horse’s gait.  But they hit a frozen river that isn’t quite frozen, and their horse begins to founder.  It seems that she won’t be able to pull the sleigh out of the water, until inspiration arrives, in the form of Athansor.  The great stallion impels Hardesty’s mare forward, and tremendous speed, and when they finally hit the outskirts of Lake of the Coheeries, the Marrattas are left wondering if the white horse was real at all, because

when he parted from the mare, he banked up and to the left in a blaze of white.

They’re back at Virginia’s home soon afterwards, greeted by a neighbor who informs them about Mrs. Gamely:

“She’s fine.  I hope you brought your dictionary.”

We leave the Lake of the Coheeries just as we arrive, and it’s back to New York City politics.  We go inside the de Pinto for Mayor campaign, which is running as unconventional a race as one can imagine.  No TV ads.  No campaign buttons.  Attacks on the very people who are funding his campaign (although, without advertising, and with a campaign headquarters with no furniture or even a phone, one wonders what exactly the money is going towards).  And, lastly, campaign rallies scheduled outdoors, in the dead of winter, to audiences composed primarily of the local fauna.  One such “mass rally” featured Praeger’s best-ever speech, and it’s attended by exactly one other human: Peter Lake.  Peter thinks he may have found a kindred spirit in Praeger, although he’s not sure what might connect them:

“Are you one of us?  I mean, are we the same?”

Praeger is equally confused, and wonders if Peter’s suggesting that he is a Freemason, or perhaps that they’re both gay (a big no to both).  Peter can’t quite express what he’s feeling, but he thinks it might have to do with not belonging in this time.  Peter wonders if Praeger was born “in this age”.

“Are you sure?  Because, you see, I think I wasn’t. And the way you talk about winters leads me to believe that you weren’t either, because what you describe as the future was once the past.  I know.  I’ve been there.”

Again, we come back to the past, present and future all being illusions – time is only a human construct, not necessary if only you can view things from the right perspective.  Praeger doesn’t get it, but Peter doesn’t mind.  He’ll still vote for Praeger.  He does mention one other thing, before he leaves the “rally” – he’s been hearing music, played by a piano.  He doesn’t know who’s playing it, or what piece it is, but:

“Whoever it is, though, she’s playin’ it real nice.”

No doubt.  Beverly Penn has been very busy, between appearing to Hardesty in the last chapter and calling out to Peter Lake back in New York.

Meanwhile, up in Lake of the Coheeries, there’s a tearful reunion between Mrs. Gamely and the Marrattas.  And then there’s skating and iceboating, and a bitterly cold night (sixty degrees below zero).  Hardesty is entranced watching what might be meteorites falling from the sky, and young Abby develops a sudden fever.  Hardesty is dispatched to find the town doctor, who is otherwise occupied, in a barn with nearly all the other men of the town.  They’re all pointing guns ad a collection of 50 or so very strange men.  They’re all ugly, they’re very threatening, and they’re dressed as though they came straight out of the early 20th century.  Clearly they are the “meteorites”, deposited here via the cloud wall, plucked from decades in the past to join their leader, who’s also in the barn.

Pearly does not act like a prisoner or a man under threat, and although Hardesty (barely) works up the nerve to challenge him, he doesn’t speak a word in answer.  There’s an interesting sentence:

But as far as Hardesty knew, this had nothing to do with Abby’s sickness, and he stole the doctor away from the Coheeries men

The way Helprin phrases it (and given the man’s skill with words, I think that when he deliberately puts it that way, it has to mean something), I read it to mean that Pearly’s presence has everything to do with Abby’s sickness.  Going all the way back to part one, I wonder if – although it’s never explicitly stated (or even really hinted at)  – Beverly’s sickness is also related to Pearly.  She was sick for a long time before Peter Lake met her.  I would not be at all surprised if the onset of her consumption matched up precisely with Peter Lake’s betrayal of Pearly during the abortive attack on the men of the Bayonne Marsh.  Now Pearly’s back, and another girl with a connection to Lake of the Coheeries and Peter Lake, has contracted consumption (no real spoiler here; you’ve probably guessed it already!).  And that links back even farther, to Peter’s encounter with the nameless child in the tenement the night after his arrival in Manhattan.

Let me go even further outside the text and speculate: in a symbolic sense, the child in the tenement, Beverly and Abby are the same person.  Not literally; I don’t believe Helprin is talking about reincarnation (although Jackson Mead’s example tells us that death is not automatically the end in Helprin’s world).  But one child with consumption stands in for all people who are condemned to death.  Saving one child might save everyone.  And remember Mrs. Gamely’s words to Virginia back in part two: “what we are trying to do is shatter time and bring back the dead.”

The next night, after receiving a diagnosis from the doctor (it’s unstated, but it’s clearly consumption) the Marrattas begin a return journey to Manhattan.  They’re attacked by the Short Tails, but Athansor descends from the sky slaughtering them and clearing a path for the Marrattas to escape.  He then heals the Marratta’s horse by licking her wounds, which then immediately disappear, and then he vanishes.

Back in New York, the Mayoral campaign is in full swing.  The big debate is held outdoors, in Central Park (because Praeger refuses to appear on television).  Wanting to see him, people flock to the Park, and the crowd swells to massive proportions, while Praeger rhapsodizes about the city:

“The city is no less an object of divine affection than life itself or the exact perfections of the light-paced universe.  It is alive, and with patience, one can see that despite the anarchy, the ugliness, and the fire, it is ultimately just and ultimately kind.  God, I love it.  I do love it.  Forgive me.”

The Ermine Mayor knows he’s done for:

He feared that the city was going to answer Praeger’s unusual appeal.  And indeed it did.  Not only were its citizens enthralled, but, when Praeger looked up, the city made itself very clear.  For it was all around him, and it was sparkling like a diamond.

Whew!  There was certainly a lot going on in this chapter, and a lot more to speculate on.

One note that I didn’t get to above is something I read in another review of this book: Peter Lake’s resemblance to the foretold Jewish messiah.  That’s a subject I know basically nothing about, but take a look at these notes from the “Judiasm 101” website concerning the messiah:

It has been said that in every generation, a person is born with the potential to be the mashiach. If the time is right for the messianic age within that person’s lifetime, then that person will be the mashiach. But if that person dies before he completes the mission of the mashiach, then that person is not the mashiach.

That fits nicely with the information we’re given in “A Very Brief History of the Clouds”, doesn’t it?  And also with Cecil’s confession to Virginia in the last chapter?  And with Peter’s lack of understanding about himself and what he’s capable of?

Just something to keep in mind as we head for the end – especially considering that Helprin himself is Jewish (and, having served in the Israeli armed forces, one can assume he’s quite serious about the history and the beliefs of his faith and his people).

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Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 4, chapter 2 – “Battery Bridge”)

Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 4, chapter 2 – “Battery Bridge”)

Before I go any further, I want to take a step back and follow up on something I mentioned at the end of the last post.  I referenced Wagner and specifically Gotterdammerung.  I think every reader brings their own experiences and their own likes, dislikes (and maybe obsessions) to a new book, and can’t help but see things through the lenses created by those experiences.  As a Wagnerian, I see his influence probably far more often than it’s warranted, so keep that in mind as you follow along with me; you’re probably seeing completely different influences than I am.

That said, I think that it’s not just the end of the Ring Cycle that we can see echoed in “Winter’s Tale” but some of Wagner’s other works as well.  Much of his work touches on (or is completely centered on) the mythological, and Helprin visits similar realms, so it’s only natural that – even if totally unintentionally – there are some correspondences.  If you’re familiar with Wagner, I think you’ll see echoes of The Flying Dutchman, Tristan and Isolde and even Parsifal as we delve into the end of the book.  Anyway, I can see them!

So, onward.

We open with Peter Lake, who “thought that he could hear the coming of the future in his machines.”  I think it’s clear by now that he definitely can.  We get a glimpse of his new life as Chief Mechanic of the New York Sun; he slips in and out of lucidity, falling into reveries while working, among his fellow mechanics, and sometimes in his nightly wanderings.  His coworkers dispatch a young apprentice to follow him and report back, and they get a strange tale.  Among the highlights

“He had conversations with fenceposts and fire escapes.”

“He put his arms around an old chimney like it was someone he knew, and started crying.”

“Whenever he’d come to something that was a bright color, he’d stare at it for hours.  He sniffed it.”

That last one is interesting, isn’t it?  Is he remembering Pearly Soames and his “color gravity” or channeling it?

We go from Peter to a different sort of madman, Craig Binky.  Unable to learn anything about the giant ship in the harbor, he’s at loose ends and decides to attack the Mayor, who has thus far refused to talk about the ship.  He enlists his chief book critic and attack dog, Wormies Bindabu (love the name!), who proceeds to call the Mayor out in the pages of The Ghost as:

a lout, a pimp, a crocodile, a Nazi, a populist, a Fascist, a pederast, a porcupine, and a glowworm.

In turn, The Sun defends the Mayor, leading to renewed open hostilities in the ongoing war between the two papers.  But the editor of The Sun has his own ideas.  Praeger de Pinto, along with Hardesty Marratta, have kept at their investigation of Jackson Mead, and discover in New Jersey massive industrial activity.  Jackson Mead appears to have limitless material resources. Praeger reflects that:

“We’re dealing here with something different than we’re used to.  Things of the world seem to be no obstacle to him, and his problems no doubt lie elsewhere.  If he’s struggling, as he appears to be, it may be in a way we can’t even imagine.”

At least, Praeger can’t imagine it.  He’s much too grounded to be able to see or understand the battle Mead is trying to fight.  Hardesty, however, is another matter.  He’s halfway to being in another world, which I think explains his curious behavior at a packed eating-house where he’s overcome by a beautiful waitress and seems ready to cast aside everything and follow her (just as he was ready to cast aside his life and follow the vagrant Peter Lake back in part three).  But the moment passes, and the two men finally end up outdoors, watching Manhattan from across the river, as it’s battered by thunderstorms.  It’s a spiritual moment:

All the time that the storm was pounding, New York remained serene.

Hardesty imagines that he may have seen a glimpse of the perfectly just city.  Praeger has seen something else: the future:

“I went to see Binky.  I sold my soul, and I’m going to be Mayor – of that.”

But he sees more.  There is something huge, apocalyptic coming, a battle that’s been put off for years, decades (centuries?).

“I don’t want that.  No one does.  No one ever did.  But should there be a reckoning, I’m going to lead the city as it falls…so that I may lead it as it rises

Praeger’s vision will prove to be quite accurate.

We go back to Peter Lake, and delve further into his state of mind.  He’s quite mad, and we follow him one night back to the Five Points, to the “city of the poor” where he falls asleep in an abandoned tenement.  What follows is something I’ve never really understood.  As Peter experiences it, he’s taken hold of, driven through the wall, and taken on a tour of all the graves in the entire world, in one night.  He takes note of every single body, every single person, regardless of where they’re buried, or how, or their former station in life:

There was much to be done.  He had to know them all.  And, in his mad and breathless flight, he did not miss a single one, but worked as if he had been created to be their registrar – the mechanical mole, the faithful observer, the gleaner of souls, the good workman.

I still don’t know what to make of this.  My first thought is to wonder whether it “really” happened or if it was a dream of Peter’s, but I’m not sure that distinction is even relevant in this book.  I think we have to assume it was a real experience, and all I can think of is to relate it to the idea of seeing all of time and space as one still, solid thing, from a far enough perspective.  Can speed substitute for distance in that equation?  Has Peter already seen perfect justice?  Or is his tour of the graves of the world a prerequisite for him to become the perfectly just man that the previous chapter refers to?

Helprin does not tell us, but instead switches gears, and we turn to Virginia.  She’s in search of a new coat, one fit for a trip to Lake of the Coheeries, which has been planned for several years, and which she hopes might happen this year.  But in her search, she passes Carnegie Hall, and spots Mr. Cecil Wooley, who’s there to attend the day’s performance (a mixed program including Mozart and also the Amphibological Whimsey Dances, composed by Minoscrams Sampson).  Virginia follows him in, takes in the concert, and observes Cecil the whole time.  She then accosts him when it’s over and drags him off to the Hotel Lenore, where she offers to buy him an ice cream soda.  He protests (he’s not allowed to talk with strangers or be out at night away from the ship), but quickly gives in, and he’s provided with a chocolate ginger cream soda, “very, very, very heavy on the special ingredient” (rum).

Cecil, under the influence, begins to talk about the good old days with Peter Lake.  Virginia misses some of his tale when Craig Binky and his entourage enter (a fun little scene), but she picks up the story at the end:

“Then he disappeared.  It was a surprise to us all, since Jackson Mead thought this one was going to be the eternal rainbow, the real one that had no end.  And then he and the horse just vanished.”

This is obviously talking about the end of part one, and Peter’s disappearance into the cloud wall.  But note the phrasing about the bridge – an “eternal rainbow.”  Here’s an echo of the Ring Cycle, and Norse myth more generally – the Rainbow Bridge leading to Valhalla.

Cecil ends with this note about Peter:

“I loved him.  He was like a brother to me.  He protected me.  And he never knew who he was.”

He still doesn’t, although when we next meet him, he’ll start to figure it out.

Meanwhile, Hardesty is doing his own research, and it takes him to San Francisco.  While searching for something – he’s not sure what, but Jackson Mead’s words about the Eternal Rainbow are guiding him – he finds himself at the edge of a cliff, overlooking the water.  And then he finds himself rising.  He’s in a room, in a house, filled with golden light, and he’s approached by a woman whose eyes were “liquid, electric, bright, uncompromising blue.”  When she leaves him, he awakens at the Presidio, at dusk, and he picks himself up to walk back to the city.  He passes by the toll booth of the Golden Gate Bridge, and in a little park, he sees a memorial.  The memorial is a statue of the chief engineer of the bridge, Joseph Strauss.  Inscribed below it is this:


Three guesses who the statue resembles, and the first two don’t count.

Upon his return to New York, Hardesty immediately goes to visit Jackson Mead in his headquarters at the museum.  Hardesty passes by a painting of Frederick the Great.  Hardesty feels as though he’s headed to an audience with Frederick, and he realizes that it might well literally be true.  Who knows how many names Jackson Mead has had over the centuries?

The two men talk about politics, and the expected public opposition to the bridge, as well as Praeger’s upcoming campaign for Mayor.   Mead is confident that this bridge will be the one to accomplish his ultimate goal.  He does deny that he was the builder of the Golden Gate Bridge (not very convincingly), and Hardesty lets that pass.  He also declares his neutrality in the conflict between Mead and Praeger.  “Things seem to be in balance, and my inclination is to let them stay that way.”  He’s wrong, of course, which he’ll discover soon enough.

We end with Mead answering one final question: what will the bridge be called?

“The name isn’t important, but we’re going to call it Battery Bridge.”

Whew!  A lot is going on.  Everything is in motion now, and nearly all the pieces are in play as the story moves towards its conclusion.

And I think we can see the shape of that conclusion.  We’re definitely headed towards something earthshaking.  Praeger can see it.  Jackson Mead is expecting it, as the opposition to his bridge begins to grow.  And the very name of the bridge suggests it.  In the Ring Cycle, it’s Wotan’s desire to get out of the bargain he made with the Giants in building Valhalla that ultimately leads to the ring becoming cursed, and eventually the end of the world in fire and water at the conclusion of the cycle.  At the end of the first opera of the cycle, Das Rhinegold, Wotan and his fellow gods cross the Rainbow Bridge, ascending to Valhalla, setting in motion their own destruction,.  What events will be set in motion by the building of Jackson Mead’s rainbow bridge?  Hang on, we’ll find out soon enough!

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Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 4, chapter 1 – “A Very Short History of the Clouds”)

Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 4, chapter 1 – “A Very Short History of the Clouds”)

We’re into the home stretch now (although there’s still about 1/3 of the book to go – we’ve got some VERY long chapters coming up), and Helprin again starts us off with a prologue of sorts, a step back, as he did before jumping into the action of the previous parts.

We get a very long view here; the cloud wall has been in existence for thousands of years (‘long before even the first millennium,” as the author tells us) and it has always been seeking the perfect moment of justice in which to lift New York (or, at least, the land that would become New York someday) and wrap it in gold.

But in that long-ago time, physics and beauty were not enough; the human heart was also required.  Jumping forward to the 19th century, another moment of rising nearly presented itself.  Unfortunately, while hearts may have been ready, the machines – another element to the equation – were not.

Later, in the jazz age, another moment almost came.

But circumstances had been a trifle uncertain, many elements had been out of place, and the city had remained firmly rooted, as if it would never rise.

Could that day have been December 31st, 1915?  I suspect so, and I think Helprin’s use of “jazz age” is probably broad enough to allow that.

But at the beginning of the third millennium:

did the wall open and rise, and the bays and rivers turn bright gold.  It was a masterwork of precision.  The choir of machines had been tuned to shout back and forth across the ages.

And note this:

The means by which justice was proffered were strikingly humble, and yet cardinal to the principles that bind this world.  And at the beginning of the third millennium, in those years of unrelenting winters, the just man finally emerged.

“Humble means” doesn’t seem to correspond with what Jackson Mead and his entourage are planning, and yet Helprin is flat-out telling us that time will be shattered, the world will be golden (note that the title of this final part of the book is “A Golden Age”).  So if he and his unprecedented bridge will not be the cause, then what will be?

And note also the mention of the just man.  Helprin also says that he “emerges”.  Not “appears.”  Not “arises.”  Emerges.  That implies that he has been here all along, among us, unseen.  Perhaps not even knowing himself that he is the just man upon whom an age will turn.  I think we all know by now that it’s Peter Lake.

So, onward.  As you read this final part, I think it might be useful to keep Richard Wagner in mind, too, specifically Gotterdammerung.  The reason will become clear when we get to the final two chapters.

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Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 3, chapter 6 – “The Machine Age”)

Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 3, chapter 6 – “The Machine Age”)

We’ve come to the end of Part Three, and quite a few questions are going to be answered.  What’s the huge ship carrying?  Who does it belong to?  What has Peter Lake been up to since his return?  What’s going to happen when, as the last chapter promised, New York City begins to come alive?    Hang on tight, because we’re about to find out…

We begin with Peter, and we briefly recap what he’s been doing since we met him last, in St. Vincent’s Hospital.  He’s spent the first few months of 1998 on the streets, sleeping in subway tunnels, finding his meals in garbage cans or at the back doors of restaurants and bakeries, where the employees

were always willing to give him a carrot or a roll, if he would take his intense and disturbing presence elsewhere.

By the beginning of summer, though, Peter begins to wander the city in earnest, trying to remember who he is.  He finds several “holy places’ (only one of them an actual church – the Maritime Cathedral that he visited back in Part One).  Another of these spots is the alley outside Petipas, where he encountered the Sun’s staff and picked up young Abby Marratta.

In his wanderings, he sometimes finds snatches of memory, but they don’t mean enough to him; there’s no context that might help him put things together and reclaim himself.  It’s a difficult existence, but Helprin notes that it does have some rewards; the people of the street (marginalized, poor, often one unlucky moment away from a quick death) seem to have a similar gift of vision to the one that Beverly Penn had (unfortunately unaccompanied by the ability to understand or clearly communicate it).

One day, Peter happens to walk past The Sun’s headquarters and finds himself staring down through a skylight into the bowels of the building, home to the printing presses and other assorted machinery.  Peter doesn’t know why or how, but the machinery calls to him:

There, at last, was something he knew and was sure of.

He watches as two very unhappy machinists scratch their heads while contemplating a partially disassembled machine, which Peter immediately recognizes as a “double mutterer”.  He taps on the skylight glass and offers to enlighten them, and after a little back and forth, they grudgingly agree.

Stepping into the basement of The Sun, Peter knows now that he is, or was, anyway, a mechanic:

In each section of the half-acre, years of knowledge charged out from the interior darkness and stood at attention like brigades and brigades of soldiers on parade.

Peter easily explains the workings of the double mutterer, as well as several other machines, including a perfection tattle and a comely engine.  The entire machine room, Peter tells them, is like a puzzle; the levers to release one machine can be found halfway across the room, and so forth.  But it all fits together:

The whole business is like a giant puzzle.  It’s sort of an equation.  The pieces are interrelated, as if they were the instruments of an orchestra.  To be the conductor,” Peter Lake said with a grin, “you have to know every instrument.  And you have to know the music.”

This is beautiful language, and it’s good to see Peter back in his element again.  And it’s only logical that he thinks of the machines in musical terms; we saw that way back in Part One.  Of course Peter knows every instrument, and there’s no question he knows all the music, too.

Peter is hired on as chief mechanic (although, having modest needs; and because the current chief mechanic is willing to take orders from Peter, but not to relinquish his title and salary, he’s paid as an apprentice), and makes a good impression on his new boss, Praeger de Pinto (who doesn’t recognize Peter from weeks before at Petipas; Peter doesn’t recognize him, either).

Peter is satisfied with his machines, only occasionally distracted, sometimes by thunderstorms.  Also fascinated – and terrified (as Peter is not) by one particular storm are Martin and Abby Marratta.  They’re under the care of the nanny, who’s in such a sound sleep that they’re unable to rouse her; and thus Martin, with five-year-old logic, assumes she’s dead, killed by the storm.  Their parents are probably dead, too, he reasons, so it’s a good thing he was recently taught how to light the stove and cook breakfast.

The nanny is not dead, of course, but Helprin uses this little vignette to illustrate the perspective of life for two small children growing up in the heart of Manhattan.  This is a wonderful few pages; I particularly enjoy the description of one of their hobbies: a more innocent version of Jimmy Stewart’s activities in “Rear Window.”  Abby and Martin watch the people in the building across from them every day, and have named nearly a thousand of them based on what they can observe from afar:

They had hundreds of invisible friends with names like “Fat Woman and Baldy,” “The Dog people,” “Lonely Dorian,” “Snake Lady,” “Underwear Man,” “The High Plant People,” “The Low Plant People,” “The Smoke People,” “Alfonse and Hoola,” “Screecher and Tiptoes,” “Crazy Ellen,” “The Boxer,” “Romeo,” “The Garilc Boys,” etc.

They also can read the various signs of their natural environment (sounds from the plumbing, the smells of perfume wafting up from the street, and so on) and discover how to make the telephone “sing to itself” via feedback.  Sun artist Marko Chestnut comments on this:

“It is true,” he said, “that they live in a machine – the city itself.  But if the machine can emerge from nature, then, surely, nature can emerge from the machine.”

And not just emerge, but rise and take flight.  Abby and Marratta have, in their innocence, a piece of the same vision that Beverly Penn had, if from a diffrent perspective.

Helprin then quickly (for him, anyway) gives us a glimpse of Athansor, toiling away in a mill in the city of the poor, “consuming perpetuity.”  From his station, endlessly circling as he turns the mill, he can still see the skyline of Manhattan, and he’s sustained by that vision.

It’s no coincidence that we go straight from Abby and Martin’s imaginative vision of a rising city, to Athansor’s very grounded view of the same thing.  Everything is connected, after all.  And another connection is the mysterious ship in the harbor.  We come back to that mystery, by way of a digression about the Mayor, who is never named, only described by the title that a “Council of Elders” bestows upon every Mayor before they take office (Harry Penn and Craig Binky somehow coexist on this Council).

The current Mayor got a fairly decent name, the Ermine Mayor (others in the past, not so fortunate, were called the Rag Mayor or the Bone Mayor).  Praeger de Pinto comes to visit him and demands answers about the giant ship.  The Mayor refuses, saying that, were Praeger in his place, he’d do the same.  Praeger isn’t hearing that, and he threatens to withdraw The Sun’s endorsement in the upcoming election.  The Ermine Mayor is unomved; there’s no one to run against him.  Praeger says that maybe he’ll run, and at first the Ermine Mayor scoffs, but begins to see that Praeger might well be a more formidable opponent than he seems at first glance.

In the meantime, Praeger, Virginia and Hardesty continue their surveillance of the ship (when almost everyone else, even at The Sun, have given up).  One morning, they catch a signal light between the ship and someone on shore.  They spring into action, and manage to get to the harbor in time to see a limo departing, presumably with some of the ship’s crew.  They follow it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where three people emerge.  Praeger, Hardesty and Virginia have no idea who these three men are, but Peter Lake would recognize them instantly: Jacksom Mead, Reverend Mootfowl, and Mr. Cecil Wooley.

We’ve already seen Cecil (when Virginia first arrived in Manhattan), but the other two are something of a surprise (or maybe not; Mootfowl already reappeared once after his death, back in Part One, after all).  But they’re not the only people to visit the museum; more limos appear, disgorging the Mayor – and then Harry Penn.  Praeger is momentarily stunned, and can only ask of Jackson Mead, “Who are you?  And where do you come from?”  The answer is:

“From St. Louis, and beyond, and other places.”

Praeger quickly gets hold of himself and pays Harry Penn a visit at home.  In the bath, to be exact.   Harry is embarrassed, and he tells Praeger “what he can” – he knows about the ship, and Jackson Mead, and apologizes for the fact that The Sun will not pursue any further answers.  he does, however, help Praeger get an audience with Mead (as well as Mootfowl and Mr. Wooley).  Virginia and Hardesty accompany him, and they return to the museum, Mead’s temporary headquarters, at 4:30 in the morning.

When they enter, music is playing (named as Bach’s Third Brandenburg Concerto), and Reverend Mootfowl is praying before a large painting depicting the ascension of St. Stephen.  Mead is at his desk, thrilling to the final movement of the concerto, which he likens to:

a good machine, a perfectly balanced rocker arm, something well-oiled and precise.

He goes on in praise of the music, noting that the perfect rhythms are present everywhere.  And then he says:

“When you die, you know, you hear the insistent pounding that defines all things, whether of matter or energy, since there is nothing in the universe, really, but proportion.”

There’s some sparring between Praeger and Mead over the public’s right to know what he’s up to, and Helprin delves a bit into his own politics, before returning to the story, as Mead reveals what he’s doing:

“My purpose,” he said, suddenly soft and benevolent, “is to tag this world with wider and wider rainbows, until the last is so perfect and eternal that it will catch the eye of the One who has abandoned us, and bring Him to right all the broken symmetries and make life once again a still and timeless dream.  My purpose, Mr. Marratta, is to stop time, to bring back the dead.  My purpose, in one word, is justice.”

It can’t be any clearer than that.  Mead, as he did in Part One, is building a bridge.  Recall that Reverend Mootfowl worshiped bridges and believed that God noticed them.  Mead wants to build a bridge so extraordinary that God cannot ignore it.  And he wants to, as Virginia was instructed to do in Part Two, shatter time and bring back the dead.

It’s slightly disappointing that Virginia doesn’t have more to do in this scene, because Mead’s words ought to resonate with her just as much as they do with Hardesty; but it’s he that carries the conversation forward.  Praeger, also, still has some things to say.  He argues with Mead about the painting; Mead asks whether St. Stephen actually rose, and dismisses Praeger’s answer.  The truth as he sees it is that St. Stephen did not rise.  But he is rising, and the reality of his rising will not be complete until all things can be seen at once; until we have the perspective to see every event as happening at the same time; that time itself is the true illusion.

Praeger is not sold on this, and he brings up a comment Mead made earlier, about dying.  How, Praeger wants to know, can Mead know what one experiences when one dies?

“Oh,” said Mead modestly, “I’ve died many times.  Let’s see,” he continued, and began to count on his fingers.  “At least six.  Maybe more.  It’s hard to keep track.”

Praeger still isn’t convinced; he’s trying to reason all this out; while Hardesty is seeing with his heart.  Praeger will not relent, and threatens to “sweep away the cobwebs” that Mead is placing before them.

“Interesting that you should say that,” said Jackson Mead.  “I mean, about the cobwebs.”


“Wait till you see my cobwebs, Mr. de Pinto, just wait.  Compared to them, iron is nothing.”

And that’s where we end Part Three.  We’ve got a man who claims to have died several times, who doesn’t appear to have aged in 80 years, accompanied by two assistants who are equally unchanged despite the passage of nearly a century (one of whom has died, “onscreen” as it were, at least once), who intends to build a bridge so extraordinary that it will attract God down from Heaven to right all things on Earth.  And he’s in command of massive resources (both to build the unprecedented ship he’s brought to New York, and to cover up all traces of his activity over the centuries) that may enable him to do the job.

And his words echo things we’ve seen over and over in the book.  The idea that there’s no such thing as time; that past, present and future are all the same thing, when viewed from sufficiently afar, and that he’s seeking to build a bridge to that faraway vantage point.

At the same time, we have others who have pieces of the same vision.  There’s Peter Lake and his newfound home among the machinery of The Sun; and Martin and Abby, who can hear the music of the machines.  Everything is coming together.

Next up, we begin Part Four, and we see what will be built from all the disparate elements…


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Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 3, chapter 5 – “An Early Summer Dinner at Petipas”)

Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 3, chapter 5 – “An Early Summer Dinner at Petipas”)

This is a short chapter, with only one scene, and yet it’s hugely important.  So without further ado, onwards!

We join a group of Sun employees, including the senior management, at one of their favorite restaurants for an early-evening dinner (unlike some of Helprin’s chapter titles, this one is about as direct and to the point as possible).  Harry Penn reflects on what he sees in the light and color of the setting sun:

He sensed in the darkness sheathed by brilliant light the compressive presence of the future and the past running together united, finally come alive.

He’s starting to see a little bit of what Beverly (and others) were able to see, way back in part one.

Praeger de Pinto arrives, with the two Marratta children in tow, bearing news: he reports to his fellows about Craig Binky’s sudden and mysterious flight.  The Sun staff speculates on what it might mean, and then converts the restaurant into a makeshift office, reaching out via telephone for any information on this strange development.

They are unsuccessful, and eventually return to their meal.  Harry Penn is philosophical about the matter.  He recalls other times that Craig Binky went off half-cocked, and concedes that, “Besides, there’s nothing more that we can do.”

They are interrupted again, by a face peering at them from the street, leaning up against the wrought-iron fence of the restaurant.  It’s Peter Lake, of course:

He looked at them without a blink, in the chilling fashion of a man who is trying to place familiar and haunting faces that he knows he cannot identify.

Unsurprisingly, he mainly fixates on Jessica Penn (who bears a resemblance to her long-dead aunt, Beverly).  Also unsurprisingly, she’ is quite uncomfortable at his attention.  He then turns his gaze to Harry Penn, who knows something is very off about all of this:

He felt as if he were being dragged back through time to a moment in childhood when he had had no learning or wisdom.

He doesn’t actually make the connection, though; he doesn’t know who this derelict is.  And while he and Peter stare at one another, three-year-old Abby Marratta slips through the bars of the fence, and goes to Peter:

Abby had crossed over, and was with Peter Lake.

It’s no accident that Helprin uses that particular phrase, which has a meaning far beyond a little girl squeezing through a fence.  Crossing over implies moving between worlds.  And note this:

In slow strides that lifted her from the ground ever so lightly and allowed her to sail towards him in slow motion, she skipped to Peter Lake as if she had known him for an eternity.  And then she seemed to fly through the air (though perhaps it was a trick of the light), her arms outspread, until she rose into his arms.

Again, the language here is very deliberate.  “Eternity” is not used lightly.  Nor is “she rose into his arms.”  Recall the discussion of St. Stephen back in part one (which we’ll revisit later in the book).  She doesn’t jump up, she’s not picked up.  She rises.  She’s crossed worlds, and she rises.  Remember that Beverly (and others) talked about already having “crossed over”.  Remember the quote that opens the book – “I have been to another world, and come back.  Listen to me.”  Remember the way Beverly’s death is described: “her soul ascended.”

Abby clearly has a destiny.  Or, maybe, a Destiny.  But before she can fulfill it, Hardesty goes to the fence and Peter hands Abby back over to him.  As the child is exchanged, Hardesty looks into Peter’s eyes, and sees nothing to be afraid of.  In fact, he sees something else entirely.  He can see that Peter is quite extraordinary, and he is gripped by:

a strong desire to see what Peter Lake had seen, to go where he had gone.  Hardesty Marratta, a prosperous family man, a man with all the proper joys and privileges, was nearly about to pledge himself to a lost derelict.

He doesn’t.  At least, not yet.  But we’ll come back to this in part four.

In the meantime, Peter vanishes, as though he had never been there, and after a long silence, Harry Penn tries to restore order.

“All right,” he said, as if reassuring not only them but himself as well, “things like that happen sometimes, and the world remains the same after all.”

but of course the world is not the same.  Just as the tension begins to fade away, Virginia sees something.  Everyone else, following her gaze, sees it a moment later.  Out on the river, heading into the harbor, is a ship.  A massive ship:

a wall that traveled sideways, a massive guillotine, the lid of the world, closing from south to north.

The ship keeps coming, in a description that reminds of nothing so much as the opening shot of the Star Destroyer in “Star Wars” – there’s just more and more ship, seemingly endlessly:

Then, at last, after several thousand feet of it had paraded before them, the superstructure and the hull ended abruptly, not in a flowing curve but in a steel cliff that dropped straight to the water.

This ship is unprecedented to the Sun staff, as it would be to us; the longest ship ever built in reality was 1,504 feet long (an oil tanker, decommissioned in 2009).  This ship is at least 3 or 4 times as big.  And it’s followed by three massive barges, each attached to the main ship by dozens of steel struts large enough to drive a truck over.

Harry Penn has an idea why this ship is here:

“There has never been a ship like this.  I think it may be bringing us a great gift.”

“Which is?”

“The future.”

He’s right, as we’ll see soon enough.

This ship is the catalyst for everything that happens the rest of the way in the story; it is indeed bringing the future, although that future is something no one, even Harry Penn with his increasingly keen eye, can imagine yet.


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Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 3, chapter 4 – “…and The Ghost”)

Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 3, chapter 4 – “…and The Ghost”)

Onwards, with one more chapter of background, backstory and explanation.  This one is a lot of fun – a dive deep into the mind of Craig Binky, editor and publisher of the New York Ghost.  You know what you’re in for when the first sentence of the chapter reads:

Look, there is no sane, organized way to describe The Ghost, and no place to start.

Helprin begins with an account of a civil war within the ranks of The Ghost, over the topic of white wine.  Specifically:

those who said that white wine came from fish, and those who maintained that it didn’t, although they either would not or could not say where it did come from.

Things only get weirder from there; it’s very entertaining reading, and I’m sure all of us have worked with or for someone who is Binkian, Binkyesque or even Binkotic – I certainly see shades of an old boss or two in the description of Binky’s dealings with his staff, and his baffling office policies.

We also get a glimpse of The Ghost’s one true area of excellence: headline writing.  These headlines are at most vaguely related to the actual stories in the paper; more often they’re entirely unconnected – but they are eye-catching all the same. The ultimate example Helprin gives us is this beauty:

“Dead Model Sues Race Horse”

As noted earlier, The Ghost is very clearly modeled on the New York Post, and the Post’s headline writers are nearly as gifted as Helprin’s fictional Ghost-writers; I imagine the author had a good laugh at the most famous ever Post headline, written not that long after this book was published: “Headless Body in Topless Bar”.

At the end of the chapter, we dip back into the actual narrative – a helicopter lands on the roof of the Ghost’s headquarters (right across Printing House Square from the headquarters of The Sun, naturally), a messenger emerges and races through the building to Craig Binky’s office.  Moments later, Binky orders every plane in the Ghost’s fleet of corporate planes to be ready for takeoff.  With their leader in the flagship – looking out at his own personal air force from a giant plastic bubble atop the fuselage of his plane – the Ghost planes take off and head to the east, out over the Atlantic Ocean (despite filing a flight plan for Brownsville, Texas).  Where were they going?

No one knew, except Craig Binky.  And Craig Binky wasn’t telling.

Helprin doesn’t tell us, either – we’ll have to wait until the next chapter to find out.

Not as much to analyze in this chapter; it’s probably the least “necessary” chapter in the entire book – but don’t skip over it!  Helprin’s prose is wonderful, as always.  His descriptions of Craig Binky’s style of office communication alone are worth the time to read this short chapter.

Next up – the plot begins moving in earnest…



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