Mark Helprin, Memoir from Antproof Case

Memoir from Antproof Case - Mark Helprin

I consider myself a Mark Helprin fan (Winter's Tale was my favourite book for about a decade), so I was surprised to find myself struggling to love this book. I think this book lacked the transcendence of Winter's Tale, and without that it was too heavy to take flight.

Helprin's prose is still enchanting. And while I am as happy as the next reader to fantasize about a Golden Past that never really existed (which nobody does better than Helprin), I found myself chafing against the mood of this book, specifically the way sexuality is used and expressed. It's hard to seriously blame a nostalgic novel for being cliché, but still. Every woman the main character meets is young and stunningly beautiful, and he is constantly falling in love with them based on their beauty alone. Of course they always return his affections, even when they are 50 years younger -- though we are not given any reason why they would. [Helprin neither names nor describes his character physically, which seems odd after page upon page of how beautiful such and such a woman is, or that whole passage about Brazilian flesh being like ripe melons in a hammock.] We are left to conclude from his romantic affairs that he must be just fantastically attractive, which seems to me like something worth describing. Not to address this imbalance suggests that Helprin didn't spend much time thinking about his female characters' motivations, and that while he found it interesting to go on and on about the effects of the women on the men, it is not interesting to consider that the men might have similar effects on the women. But, you know, women. It's not like any of them were in the war, robbed a bank, had murdered parents, flew airplanes, lived in New York City, made and lost fortunes, fled a country, fell in love, or looked back on their lives from old age. Or if they did, Mr. Helprin did not find it noteworthy.

Of course I am interested in reading books by all authors, including those who are profoundly heterosexual men. But I found the beautiful woman cliché, which occurred so many times in this novel, to be really tedious this time around, and the rest of the story didn't transcend this problem for me. The adventure was interesting but seemed to keep getting bogged down in unrewarding side stories. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood for this book, but I would not recommend it.