This is the latest novel by Mark Helprin, a man I hope continues to write and publish for as long as he can remain upright. As with Winter's Tale, the book is set in New York City. As another user says about the former, "Helprin, too, was painting here. With wider, bolder, softer, subtler strokes, and - damn it - I could feel the City in my head becoming his." Well, again he has made NYC his. He owns the place. The timeframe here is just after the troops have returned from WWII with flashbacks to said conflict. It is at heart a love story between a former Army Ranger paratrooper "Pathfinder" named Harry and a girl with whom he falls in love at first sight, Catherine.
It's over 700 pages, so you'd expect a lot to happen. You'd be wrong. And if you think that a lot of stuff is going to "happen" in a Helprin book, you will come away disappointed. If you enjoy Helprin, you enjoy him as you would Joyce, Nabokov or Shakespeare -- for the language and the way it fits together in sentences that neither you nor I will ever be able to create were we to live forever. Christopher Beha, in "The Writers Notebook II," says, "When you map a book out in your head, you don’t build it with sentences, since you can’t fit that many sentences in your head at once." I'm not so sure that's true with Helprin. He seems headstrongly intent on forcing some of these marvelous sentences into his story even if it resembles pounding a square block into a round hole. "Well, is that a good thing?" All I know is, the world would contain a little less magic if any one of them were removed.
I think this is why some folks have a hard time with Helprin, and even I have to, at times, soldier ahead even while feeling pangs of doubt. I think it's like the joke about the ADD kid who also has OCD. He can't seem to remain focused on exactly what he's obsessed about.
There is little doubt that Harry is obsessed with Catherine, who is from a very old money family with a prestigious name, but who has taken a stage name to try and make it in the theater, primarily as a singer. If you want pages and pages about the meaning of true love, you'll find them here. He dissects it like a forensic scientist and then puts it back together as a living, breathing item.
What I'm in love with is the language. As with most of his previous work, the sea plays a large part in the story, and the colors in and around the sea are everpresent. I cannot waste the time to count, but I'd suspect that one in every twenty words of this novel is the name of a color. "Is that too much?" Again, world, magic, less.
So should you read this book? I think if you want to write, you should read everything this man has written. But if you're a stranger to Helprin, I wouldn't start with this book. You might have to already have elevated him to sainthood in your own mind before you'd appreciate this one.