It’s Valentine’s Day. Since I can’t drop handmade cards into each of your mailboxes, I offer another kind of valentine.
My offering is mysterious, powerful, full of word pictures that will burn bright in your imagination.
Between the covers of Mark Helprin’s 1983 novel, Winter’s Tale, live magic and romance.
A fairy tale of Dickensian proportions, Winter’s Tale moves from gritty streets in nineteenth century Manhattan to a lake so far upstate no one can find it, back to the city and forward in time to the dawn of the twenty-first century. One travels on foot, by sleigh, ice skates, river boat, train, on a huge white horse that can leap a city block, and by falling into the white curtain of a cloud wall, which relocates people in time.
In the late 19th century, orphan Peter Lake is raised by illiterate marsh dwellers. At age twelve, they send him alone to live in the city. Ignorant of civilization, he quickly learns what money is, dances for coins, and becomes a thief. He learns the trade of mechanic, joins a gang, makes a lifelong enemy of the gang leader, Pearly Soames, survives by his wits and the speed of his horse. (Now we’re on page 100.)
This 700+ page book divides into four sections with Biblical names: The City; Four Gates to the City; The Sun . . . and The Ghost; A Golden Age. Besides Biblical allusions, readers have identified influences of a host of predecessors: Dickens, Mark Twain, Dante, Shakespeare (whose play The Winter’s Tale shares a title), Hans Christian Andersen.
A background in literature is not required to bring this challenging book to life. A willingness to accept a new set of rules by which the universe operates will help. So will an appreciation for flights of dazzling description, winter in her many forms, and a saga of romantic love.
P.S. Earlier this month, writer and film producer Akiva Goldsman announced he would begin working on a Warner Bros. production of Winter’s Tale in the spring of 2012. I urge you to read the book before allowing a screen version to do the work of your imagination.