It would be too easy, too dismissive, to say Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale is about New York City. It is set in New York City. It is about New Yorkers. But similar to Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, Winter’s Tale is simply imbued with New York City. While McCann focuses on the tragic events of 9/11; what the Twin Towers represented during their construction, their dominance of the skyline-humanity’s indomitable spirit or an overzealous ambition to reach heavens, deifying ourselves- and the untimely demise. Helprin frames his novel within the mythology of New York City. It is at once informed by and is permeated by Helprin’s gut reaction to New York City. I use the word ‘gut’ but this is not Scorcese’s Taxi Driver New York City, a visceral portrait of degradation and vice. Far from it. Helprin’s is a New York of fairy tales. The fairy tale of a great city. Beauty and whimsy abound in the narrative along with a healthy dose of pathos. There’s a sentient flying horse, feats of strength, battles where nothing less severe than Good and Evil hang precariously in the balance. And there’s a remarkable love story coded within Helprin’s love story to New York City.
Fans of another Scorcese movie, Gangs of New York will enjoy the scenes on the Bowery and The Village in its infancy, ready stocked with half-cocked schemes, dreams of wealth, and plenty of hand to hand violence. Those familiar with The Pogues ‘Fairytale of New York’ will recognize the canned nostalgia, the desire to celebrate an era we know little of, let alone lived in. But like Shane McGowan promising his dame that ‘Broadway is waiting for her,’ and ‘rivers of gold,’ nostalgia is no longer a dirty word when it becomes a fantasy.