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text 2017-04-28 01:22
WTF? New Shelves
Winter's Tale - Mark Helprin

I've decided to add some new shelf tags to my blog. 


Firstly, inspired by "Lincoln in the Bardo," (which I have not yet read) I'm going to add a shelf called "What the Heck," or, "WTF?" This shelf will be dedicated to books whose premise, or plot, or characters are weird enough for me to say, "What the heck did I just read?" And that's usually a good thing.


Top of the list: Mark Helprin's "Winter's Tale." Also on the list (or soon to be): Nabokov's "Pale Fire" - perhaps the ultimate WTF novel. Probably some stuff by my beloveds Chabon and McEwan. You get where I'm going here.


"Winter's Tale" also reminds me of another tag that's important to my literary life and needs to be added: "New York Stories." I've only visited the city once (what a trip), but it's held a huge place in my reader's imagination throughout my life. I need to remember to tag my New York Stories as I read them. 



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text 2017-02-20 15:58
Short Take: Winter's Tale
Winter's Tale - Mark Helprin

This book opens with a three-paragraph Prologue that is a prose poem musing on the mystical nature of the city. It is soaringly lyrical and a little bit metaphysical. 


It doesn't quite prepare you for the epic oddity that is this novel, but it sure is a beautiful beginning.



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review 2016-05-01 00:00
Winter's Tale
Winter's Tale - Mark Helprin inventive but much longer than it needed to be.
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-03-12 17:05
The Winter's Tale: Shakespeare's Weird Fairy Tale
The Winter's Tale (The New Cambridge Shakespeare) - William Shakespeare



This is a very strange play.  While Shakespeare stayed within the bare conventions of his time in writing plays he is fundamentally an experimental author and this play is one of his more experimental works.  The play is nominally a comedy but the first three acts read like tragedy and then the comedy breaks out in earnest for the last two acts.  The play also contains pastoral themes, but it has a plot that is essentially a folk tale.  The plot is that a King becomes jealous of his wife who then dies with her son of the shame more or less and the daughter who the King believes his daughter is illegitimate exiles her.  She becomes lost and is raised by a simple shepherd when a handsome prince falls in love with her.  They then flee for love before the mystery is solved and everything works out fine.


The tone of the play dramatically changes at the conclusion of the third act.  Up until that time the play is primarily a sort of Sophoclean tragedy and then it becomes Shakespeare at his silliest.  The last two acts are as silly as As You Like It, up until the weird denouement of the play.  Its clearly Shakespeare trying to experiment and the influence of fairy tales is very plain.  The psychological realism is not there and the characters act as archetypes.  Too me the whole thing prefigures something similar in the Tempest, but here it does not really come off.  The play fails to cohere and the shifts and characters don't quite work.  However, it was probably a necessary experiment that allowed the Tempest to be written later.  The Tempest does something similar, but it works.  It reminds me of Timon of Athens which is also a noble experimental failure and that play in my opinion prefigures King Lear.  The play is very weird, including an unnecessary bear attack, which is quite confusing.  The characters don't quite gel either.


I don't begrudge Shakespeare's failed experiment, because Shakespeare failing is better than most authors succeeding.  That being said the only play that I have read by Shakespeare that I think is worse is Timon of Athens.  Weird and strange.

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review 2016-01-15 00:00
The Master Of Ballantrae: A Winter's Tale
The Master Of Ballantrae: A Winter's Tale - Robert Louis Stevenson Robert Louis Stevenson is in a constant shoving match with [a:Anthony Trollope|20524|Anthony Trollope|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1199114248p2/20524.jpg] to be my favorite Victorian. If it comes down to it, its pretty clear which man would win.

Hint: Its not the one who writes sensitive drawing room think-pieces.

The Master of Ballantrae has all the trappings of an adventure story, but what the reader ends up with is a novel about the allure of evil and how, by inches, we're drawn to it even as we're on guard against it.

The story is the narrative of Ephraim Mackellar, steward to the Duries, a prominent noble family of Scotland, and how it was fractured by the Jacobite uprisings of 1746. There were two brothers and their father ordered the younger son to join the rebellion while his heir and favorite, the Master of Ballantrae would support the English King so that the family would be safe whatever the outcome of the rebellion. But the Master refuses to stay behind and makes his brother Henry stay home at Durrisdeer instead.

The rebellion is a failure and nothing is heard of the Master for many years. In the meantime the Master's intended bride marries Henry out of duty. But the Master is alive and returns full of spite against his brother and all smiles sets about destroying the family and estate in such a way that his brother can only take the blame.

There's more, of course, but the novel centers on the conflict between the dry, responsible and unloved Henry with his charismatic manipulative brother who effortlessly gains the affections of those around him. This is a dark book and the humor that Stevenson attempts to inject into it, mostly at the expense of the stiff "old maid" Mackeller, fails to lift the spirits. Its a dark book, perfect for adding an additional chilly layer to wintertime.
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