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Review: Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin

It’s quite hard to sum up a novel like Winter’s Tale, because it’s like attempting to sum up the world. Too many things are going on simultaneously, and every specific instance needs our constant attention. However, I’ll try to represent this wonderful story as faithfully and clearly as possible. Due to this, I’ve decided to combine the synopsis and review. 

Let’s begin with Peter Lake—he’s from immigrant parents who were not granted admission on Ellis Island due to being marked with consumption. Ingeniously, his parents steal a model-sized ship named The City of Justice, place him within it, and set him afloat towards a (hopefully) better future. He is found and taken in by the Baymen of the Bayonne Marsh until he comes of age—which is remarkably younger than what we’re used to. They send him to Manhattan, then, to make his own way in the world—he ends up learning a trade (as a mechanic) and being forcibly employed by a gang called The Short Tails. He unfortunately makes a brutal enemy of the gang’s mysterious, crazed, and color-obsessed leader, Pearly Soames, who, from there on out, hunts Peter Lake. He is saved by a mythical white horse; his name is later discovered to be Athansor, a powerful and otherworldly being. He meets a girl named Beverly Penn, a dying heiress, visionary, and beauty. They fall in love instantly, and are together until her untimely death. There are others, too—Virginia Gamely, whose daughter is ultimately brought back to life by Peter Lake, much later in the novel. There is Jackson Mead, a master engineer of bridges, who, turns out, isn’t all that human. There is also Hardesty Marratta, a run-a-way, once-heir from San Francisco. But there are so many other wonderfully-depicted characters throughout—it would take a novel in itself to describe all of their intricacies and important roles in Winter’s Tale, so I’ll stop there, and let your discover them for yourself.

In its essence, Winter’s Tale is a love letter to New York City. It isn’t based in our world, but a world that closely resembles ours. It’s ripe with the magical, mythological, and the impossible made commonplace. One of the things I enjoyed most is the narrative’s lyricism. It is quite honestly some of the most beautiful prose ever written. It fits in snugly with the otherworldly quality of the novel, raising the prose to match the novel’s core concepts and themes: justice, fantasy, time, love, and universal connections. It’s comforting in its own way because everything, despite how minor it may seem, is connected to the continuous, fluid motion of the universe. 

There are so many fantastic phrases in this novel. I found myself stopping after each paragraph, jotting down lines, mind-blowing metaphors, words I’d never come across before and longed to read again and again. This novel is for the story-lover, in that, it isn’t based in realism, but something far more powerful: hope. Don’t allow the fantasy element to dissuade you from reading it. Because it’s far more than an epic: it’s an all-encompassing love story, a study on justice and its many cruelties and benefits, and most importantly, a dream of a book that you’ll wish to never wake up from. 

Reviewed by M.B. Sellers

Book Information
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 1/7/2014
Pages: 768

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