A few years ago, in the midst of one of my worst depressions, I picked up Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. It was summer, and I was in the throes of an impossible romance. For a week, I rode the subway, and read it in the cool air—up to Harlem, and back to Brooklyn, from Queens to Manhattan, from Woodlawn to Union Square. Being underground with it was the only respite I had from my heat-induced misery. The book made me dream of snow and darkness and the emptiness of winter. It served as an outlet for all of my unrequited love, past and present and future.
The book is stunning. It’s an elegy to the history of New York. It’s a fairy tale of biblical proportions. It’s a fantasy novel written well (ha! you thought that was an oxymoron).
I’m trying to do justice to what it accomplishes, but I keep on typing sentences, and deleting them, because I can’t put into words how the book seems less a novel than a re-telling of some kind of epic, primal dream that I’ve had for years, but always wake up forgetting. A reviewer in the New York Times said it best:
“I find myself nervous, to a degree I don’t recall in my past as a reviewer, about failing the work, inadequately displaying its brilliance.”