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Book Review: Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin

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Bizarre, maniacal, tedious, a thesaurus for writing about cold and snow. Every time I sat down with this book another adjective burst into my mind. Surely the author must be ADHD; he moves around so much it's like wack-a-mole trying to find or follow a character, or what is so very well disguised as a plot. The jumps between reality and what may or may not be reality invoke visions of LSD flashback. And what the heck is the cloud wall? Only of a sudden halfway thru the book does it become a worm hole for jumping thru time. This book is very much a jigsaw puzzle of lovely thoughts, mad ramblings, fear, fantasy, improbability and absurdity.

Then there's phrases of such infinite beauty and depth of soul that you have to pause just to absorb them and then to wallow in them:

Quite possibly there's nothing as fine as a big freight train starting across country in early summer, Hardesty thought. That's when you learn that the tragedy of plants is that they have roots. The reeds and grasses on the hot mounds and in the ditches turned green with envy and begged to go along (which is why they waved when the train went by).

The summary on the flyleaf leads you to believe that this is a tale of Peter Lake's love that is strong enough to last forever and defeat even death. Don't you believe it. It's a tale of New York and its occupants, including very nasty little people who seem to reproduce themselves like the creatures in the movie, Gremlins. Way in the back of the tale are the three men with super powers who are responsible for the building of the world's greatest bridges and, in the end, the destruction of the world the bridge is meant to serve.

Too many wrong turns by characters. What woman wouldn't use the poultice sitting in her carpetbag that she knows would save her grandchild? Why would the horse wait 14 months working at a mill wheel when he had the power to break away whenever he wished? Why would the little bad guys go to upstate New York and massacre an entire village? And why did they cut off their short tails at the end of the book? Was there any purpose at all in the salver that Hardesty inherits? If he found the just city in Coheeries, why didn't he stay there?

I tried, indeed I tried very hard to lose myself in the imagination of this author's fairy tale. But I failed, maybe it's the mathematician in me or the goatish structure my psyche demands. There are sections in which the plot seems to take off and the tension builds so quickly that you can hardly put the book down. Then there are so many passages that are truly bizarro that you just want to throw it across the room. At the end of the day, I'm glad I read this book, but I sure wouldn't do it again.

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