Thursday, May 12, 2011

Book #0.5: "Winter's Tale" by Mark Helprin

It's finally happened--I was unable to finish a book. In the two years that I've done the Cannonball Read, I've gotten through some truly terrible books. I've managed, through sheer stubbornness and not a small amount of masochism to finish books that I wanted to set on fire as soon as I was done with them--just to keep another poor soul from reading them. I told myself I'd never leave a book unfinished. I broke that promise with Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin.

It's not even the worst book I've ever read. There's nothing I actively disliked about it. But oh lord, I just didn't care. About any of it! And eventually I realized that I'd started skipping longer and longer passages of the book because of how awfully bored I was of the whole thing, and I decided to just give it up. I'm never going to finish that book. And I feel bad about it.

It came to me with glowing reviews and recommendations from people I trust (it was mentioned quite a few times on Pajiba whenever someone asked for recommendations), so I had really high expectations for it. And it started out well! Seemed like a flowery story set in New York in the early 20th Century, with bits of fantasy and supernatural elements thrown in here and there.

And then it just went nowhere for what felt like an eternity. It introduced characters over 20 pages, and just when you were really getting into their stories, it'd abruptly turn to a NEW character, just completely dismissing the other. Then it'd go on to yet another loooong description of New York--which, yes, Mark Halprin, I get it, New York is magical, now GET ON WITH IT. I couldn't grasp the tone of the book, or figure out where the hell it was planning on going. Just as I'd start to think "Oh, it's the story of Peter Lake falling in love with so and so", the book would abruptly end that plotline and jump into something completely different. And I just hated the whole thing.

So I gave up. I'll probably be told that I should keep reading, that it's a great book and that it all has a purpose in the end. Probably. But I just didn't like the writing, I didn't care for the characters and I couldn't get through another 500 pages to figure out if there was a point to the whole thing.

I'm gonna count it a .5 of a book, because I think I read to the halfway point. I really didn't even think I had this much to say about it, but it turns out I always have a lot to say about anything. Point is: I didn't like it and couldn't finish it. I feel bad about it, but it'll be going back to the library, and I'll remember it as my very first Cannonball defeat.

One last thing: If you liked the book, please tell me why in the comments. I really want to know.


RaiderLegend said...

I'm just about done with the book Winters Tale and like you I wanted to set it down, but try to stay committed to finishing what I start. You're feelings about the book match much of what I felt while reading it at first. The best reason for liking this book is for its poetic prose and thought provoking fantasies. One review's comments pretty much summed up why I am still enthralled by this book. She said its a book for people who love words and sentences. That might not make sense to many readers who prefer good storytelling, but for someone like myself who'll read over passages for their sound, hidden meanings and creativity, this book delivers the goods. I can't imagine someone referring this book to another unless they know the person not only likes words but likes quoting passages. Thats my take. Hope it sheds some light on the book for you.

Anonymous said...

I think I read this when I was in middle school or high school. For some reason one of my teachers had it on this list of books you could choose from for a book report and I picked it up from the library and read it. It's been a while so this probably isn't helpful but I remember liking it. I also remember being confused by it because the timeline was eratic and there was time travel and flying horses and guys that could jump 20 feet high.

I think what RaiderLegend said was correct in that much of what kept me going with the book was the prose and the words. I thought it was beautifully written. Even though my 13/14 year old brain couldn't quite get a handle on the plot. I got the gist of it but it was difficult for me to really care about the protagonist or his consumption ridden lady friend.

I did really like that horse. And the idea of this wall of fog that would swollow up the city.

I think the plot picks up a lot more in the second half, or at least that's what I remember. I've always thought about picking Winter's Tale up again though to see what I'd think of it as an adult.