Nearly 40 years after Mark Helprin's first short story was published in the New Yorker, the talented author continues his exploration of the genre with The Pacific and Other Stories. In his first book in almost 10 years, Helprin offers up 16 stories of mostly ordinary people whose outward peace masks the turbulence within their souls. Helprin's characters are all ages and sexes, and live in such disparate locales as Venice, Brooklyn and Israel. But what they all have in common is a quiet faith in their own ability to make a difference.
In Monday, a middle-aged contractor who still believes that an honorable life is a worthy one, bestows an unheard of gift upon a young widow. In Perfection, a slight Hasidic boy shows Mickey Mantle, Casey Stengel and the rest of the New York Yankees how the game of baseball should be played, with a Yiddish twist.
All of the stories are to the point—one person, one problem. But such problems! Drifter Jacob Thayer, for example, must convince the inhabitants of a small town in turn-of-the-century Europe that the telephone is not God. In the title story, a young woman works in a factory while her husband fights World War II in the Pacific. She takes a small house in San Diego overlooking the ocean so there is nothing separating them but water.
Helprin skillfully bounces back and forth between whimsy and tragedy. The stories' lack of connectedness is a thread in itself, a statement of humanity's infinite capacity for sorrow and joy. Each of the men and women in this book are introspective, although they somehow contrive to be so without acknowledging any flaws in themselves. For better or worse, they've lived their lives to this point and now they are all searching. They are looking for love, death, hope, God and the better part of themselves.
Ian Schwartz writes from New York City. Copyright 2004 BookPage Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2004 August #2
Sixteen tales of war, love, the achingly beautiful past and the fallen present.It's been about a decade since his last novel (Memoir From Antproof Case, 1995), so Helprin tosses out a story collection, as if that will be enough. And it almost is. The opener, "Il Colore Ritrovato," is a graceful inversion of the expected, a good taste of what's to come-as an opera impresario tries to convince a young singer not to sign with him yet, as success could dull her gift. "A Brilliant Idea, and His Own" is a straightforward adventure, set in WWII Italy: A British forward fire observer critically injures himself parachuting behind German lines and struggles to stay alive to accomplish his mission. Smaller pieces are less resonant, like the title story, about a female welder who pines for her love serving in the Pacific, and "Sail Shining in White," about an aged retiree who sails into a massive hurricane, most likely to die but absolutely determined to live. The jewel here is the aptly titled "Perfection." In 1950s New York, it follows a 14-year-old Holocaust survivor who's given a divine mission: to save the Yankees from their slump. The absurd scene at the center of the story is oddly delightful: a slight boy in full Orthodox regalia, ignorant of baseball and everything modern, striding to the plate at Yankee Stadium and showing "Mickey Mental" how to hit home runs. Its magical vision of baseball's glorious design seems almost divine ("All was grace and perfection here, all just and redeemed, all prayer answered, ratios exact, rhythms perfect, laws obeyed"), the kind of thing W.P. Kinsella was once able to conjure at will.Helprin needs space to work his magic, room to build up steam, but even in these short bursts, he often accomplishes what others take hundreds of pages to achieve.
Library Journal Reviews 2004 July #1
A rich cast of characters (e.g., a hard-hearted opera impresario, a 9/11 widow) light up this collection from Helprin-his first book in ten years. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal Reviews 2004 September #1
Contemporary fiction is awash in self-serving characters happy to parade their weaknesses as badges of honor. So it's especially satisfying to read this collection from Helprin (A Soldier of the Great War), whose characters act in accord with this observation from "Sidney Balbion": "Honor. It's the only thing left." The opera impresario who wonders whether he should pluck a talented younger singer from the streets, giving her fame at the risk of personal happiness; the contractor who does a job for free when he discovers that his client is a 9/11 widow these characters act with almost old-fashioned moral rectitude, and Helprin is gifted enough to make them seem real, not stick-figure advertisements for good behavior. Among these fine character studies are a few more extended pieces, like the arresting "Perfection," wherein a young Hasidic student, who has seen his parents perish in the Holocaust and is eager to find "a justice and a beauty that will lift the ones I love from the kind of grave they were given," teaches the Yankees to play baseball on a higher level. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 7/04, and "Fall Editors' Picks," p. 40-44. Ed.] Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2004 August #4
As ambitious and imaginative as any of Helprin's past works (Memoir from Antproof Case; Winter's Tale; etc.), the 16 stories collected in the author's first book in nearly a decade are gloriously rich and varied. In "Perfection," Helprin's fabulist skills glitter as a Hasidic boy from 1958 Brooklyn makes a pilgrimage to "the house of Ruth" in the Bronx, believing that he must save Mickey Mantle and the "New York Yenkiss." Other tales explore loss, regret, retribution and time's passage, their exotic locations Italy, France, Israel, the orange grove-era Pacific coast imbuing them with exuberant life. In "Il Colore Ritrovato," a bookkeeper-turned-impresario, who years ago discovered one of the world's greatest (and unhappiest) opera singers, happens upon another untrained but perfect soprano and wrestles with his conscience about introducing her to the professional world. In "Monday," an honorable contractor willing to sacrifice other contracts and his own reputation to renovate the home of a woman whose husband was killed on September 11 learns "the power of those who had done right." "Passchendaele," a story of unrequited passion between a Canadian rancher and his neighbor's mute wife, is tender and moving, as are "Last Tea with the Armorers" and "Prelude," each demonstrating immense faith in the power of love. These are sturdy, rewarding stories from a master of the form. Agent, Wendy Weil. 4-city author tour. (On sale Oct. 25) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.