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Mark Halperin: Winter's Tale

– March 11, 2012

I finally finished reading Mark Halperin’s Winter’s Tale. It took about twenty-seven years all told, with two false starts following the first trickling departure. My overall opinion was average. It rambled. It has difficulties with coherence: not in the sense of understanding but in the sense of organic unity. It asks you to install a lot of energy into sub-stories that fall to the wayside. Characters have importance unto themselves but you question what the parts contribute to the whole. The language was often fun. The vocabulary at times intruguing. Lists in the Rabelais tradition (though not the Joycean line: still, an easy plus).

Though, it has to be said, that I am sure that much of the problem lies in the long gap between this reading and the last real attempt, which was a very long time. Especially in that my memory of the book was much greater than the what the book really is. But so it so often goes. The memory was much more wondrous, stranger, fantastic. Not to say the book it isn’t imaginative, it is. But it didn’t live up to the memory.

“Live up to,” is the wrong phrase. “Compare to.”

The book can’t be blamed for that, of course. Nothing compares to years of creating around a cluster of memory threads. The real object has to be accepted on its own. It was actually an intriguing surprise when the book veered from my memory: which is credit to what Winter’s Tale does offer. And there is something to say in that I finished the book: I am not plagued with a need to finish every book that I begin; if a book fails to continue to intrigue me, I’ll drop it. It could be if I read it again – and perhaps one day I might – I can approach it clear of memories and enjoy it wholly on its own. That I have that thought also speaks in the book's favor.

What is interesting to me though is that for which I pseudo-criticize the book – that is, the failure in organic unity, and perhaps that also needs correction to “organic strength” – is the very heart of the creative experimenting going on within my current project: finding unity in a text with characters that hold their own individual (if inter-touching) story-lines. (For the third time not the best phrasing, but here I have nothing better to offer.) My head was exploring, even as my head was also sighing. So even if it did not live up to hopes, there was yet in Winter’s Tale that sine qua non for value as an aesthetic object: it offers thought to the artist themselves creating? Of course, that quality is ‘without which there is not,’ not ‘with which there must be.’ But trust me here, the case here leans to the former, not to the latter. Ergo, I recommend.