Friday, October 15, 2004


Just a brief note on spelling. Mark Halperin, the ABC News Political Director, who recently wrote an internal memo charging his underlings to work harder to get John Kerry elected, is not the same person as Mark Helprin, novelist, arch-conservative hawk, and occasional WSJ columnist. I've been seeing some spelling errors in the blogosphere that may lead to confusion. I wouldn't want anyone to think that Halperin suddenly began writing fiction. (We'll leave the network news fictions to Dan Rather.)

Next week, Mark Helprin has a new book coming out--The Pacific and Other Stories, and of course I have pre-ordered a copy. I'm also curious about how the New York literary critics will review the book--should they decide to review it at all. This month-old post at 2Blowhards provides a little insight.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Helprin was the darling of literary New York. Then he ceased to be. It had nothing to do with a decline in his writing, and everything to do with his fans and critics realizing he had another life, as a scholar of military strategy. When Helprin in the 1980s came out publicly in support of the deployment of cruise missiles in Europe, his golden-boy days ended. The coup de grĂ¢ce came on Sunday, April 28, 1991, when the New York Times Magazine published Paul Alexander's profile of Helprin. This piece questioned--indeed doubted--the veracity of much of what Helprin had said about himself in print over several years (he has a very colorful background). The piece made Helprin seem like a self-aggrandizing liar, and seemed designed to take him down a peg in readers' eyes. It was, in other words, a hatchet job, and Helprin has never gotten over it.
Anyway, read the whole Blowhards' piece.
Though the writer prefers Helprin's short stories, I prefer his novels. Winter's Tale (1983) was the first Helprin book I read. I've since read it three times and I'm still not exactly sure what he's getting at. I think the point of the novel is that when seen from the perspective of eternity, everything that happens makes sense. Or "nothing is random" as one brief chapter declares.

Or Romans 8:28 if you prefer.

But that small message comes in quite an envelope.

It's been almost ten years since Helprin's last novel, Memoir From Antproof Case. Antproof Case is a comic novel, yet it has at its center one of the most heartbreaking moments of any book I've ever read. I originally ranked it quite low among his books, but a recent reread placed it near the top, vying with A Soldier of the Great War for second place. (I'm going to have to read Soldier again in order to make up my mind.)


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