Archive for the ‘Mark Helprin’ Category

ParisHelprin always astonishes me, his effortless grasp of the exact description, his wonderful visions, his wild invention. He is such a brave true spirit! His books shine with honor and love—which does not prevent them from being slyly amusing, and very entertaining. Yes, extravagant language, yes, crazy wild excursions into otherworldly perceptions. But at no point did I feel the prose was too unbridled, too unbuttoned, too unedited–a occasional flaw of his fabulous over-the-top and VERY long book, Freddy and Frederika. At times, this latest book reminded me of the wild ways of Saul Bellow–another man whose essential kindness shone through all his brilliant talk.
Paris in the Present Tense is about a 74 year old man, a musician, who takes on an almost impossible challenge: to earn enough money to save his fatally ill grandson. When his first strategy fails, he decides on a new course, which eventually requires a stupendous and heroic sacrifice. But while the plot is engaging, it is his ruminations and conversations that give the book such charm: “Having an ageing body is like living in a big house. Something is always going wrong, and by the time it’s fixed, something else follows. Very old age is when the things that go wrong cause other things to go wrong, until, like sparks racing up a fuse, they finally reach a pack of dynamite.” HA! Well put! My copy of the book is bristling with markers—I have put some of the other quotes here.


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I have just finished Ellis Island, a lovely book of excellent short stories, by Mark Helprin. Now that I have read a few of his books, I see patterns and stories that are common to his work, and recognize those moments of frenetic wild abandon that he sometimes just cannot resist, rhapsodies of description that ascend into the impossible but still, are magical. Silly and wonderful ecstasies of language. And often, very moving indeed. Charming figures of speech: “I followed, dizzy as a loon, through a maze of wooden stairs and hallways so rich with age that you could have boiled them in a pot and made a delicious broth”. His own experiences, and his delicate sense of family and city history forms a stalwart support for the stories, some of which might otherwise falter into froth and whimsy.

Hell's Gate, NY

Hell’s Gate, by Michael John Boog.1888. The image depicts the area where the East River, Harlem River and Long Island Sound meet called Hell Gate. The name reflects the turbulent waters that exist as a result of conjunction of bodies of water. Museum of the City of NY.


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