Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Why I Like Mark Helprin

Mark Helprin is one of those writers whose work I'll always make time to read. He's written some of my favorites and counts, for me, as a writer I tout to other serious readers. Other writers in that category in my book include Patrick O'Brian and PG Wodehouse.

Two of Helprin's novels -- Winter's Tale and A Soldier of the Great War -- I've read several times each. Grand, sweeping, magic, epic novels. The kind of novels in which one can climb and live for a time.

I've just finished a collection of Helprin's short stories, The Pacific and Other Stories. While I prefer the long-form novel, these were a delight. Here's an example of the kind of written gems I find in here. He's writing about what is special about the City of Venice, in a story called Il Colore Ritrovato.
It isn't because of the architecture or the art, the things that people go to look at and strain to preserve. The quality of Venice that accomplishes what religion so often cannot is that Venice has made peace with the waters. It is not merely pleasant that the sea flows through, grasping the city like the tendrils of a vine, and, depending upon the light, making alleys and avenues of emerald or sapphire, it is a brave acceptance of dissolution and an unflinching settlement with death. Though in Venice you may sit in courtyards of stone, and your heels may click up marble stairs, you cannot move without riding upon or crossing the waters that someday will carry you in dissolution to the sea. To have made peace with their presence is the great achievement of Venice, and not what tourists come to see.
That paragraph struck me and has stuck with me. I enjoy the depth of thought and the craft of writing like that.

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