two-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
18-Sept-Oct-2005
user_rating: 
0

A-FreddyFredericka Helprin’s novel is a comic allegory of Freddy, the overeducated, awkward Prince of Wales, and his frivolous, vapid wife Fredericka. Because Freddy (and everyone else) knows he isn’t quite cut from the cloths of kings quite yet, he and his wife are sent on an overseas quest to prove their worth. It’s a daunting task: they must reconquer America for the Mother Country. After parachuting into New Jersey naked, they travel across the country in a most unusual way as they experiment with the rail systems, steal art, travel down the Mississippi (with some echoes of Mark Twain), and impersonate all manner of characters. As their royal assumptions collide with the reality of life on the road, can they rise to their full potential?
Penguin. 553 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 1594200548

Miami Herald 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Humorous in its parodies and hilarious in its slapstick shticks and verbal tomfoolery, Freddy and Fredericka is delightfully rich. … Freddy and Fredericka is a big book, too long at times, but it’s undeniably fun."
Amy Canfield

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"… Mr. Helprin has constructed a perfect showcase for his heretofore underused gift of humor, and in doing so he has produced a delightful romp of a book." Michiko Kakutani

San Francisco Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"In a curious hybrid of a novel—part broad farce, part heroic fairy tale—Helprin pokes fun at celebrity culture, dumbing down, feel-good compassion, relativism and its concomitant political correctness, all embodied initially in Fredericka. … The problem is that the lyrical fairy tale that extols an American paradise, and the farce that laughs at what America has made of itself, do not often jell." Selina O’Grady

Minneapolis Star Tribune 2.5 of 5 Stars
"In many ways this antic book is suited more to the artifice of film than of language—what a fantastic movie it would make—images take you into their world much faster than words. ... As a read it can be choppy as a galloping carriage ride over cobblestones, but the horses never run away." Emily Carter

San Jose Mercury News 2 of 5 Stars
"Freddy and Fredericka lurches from satire to sentimentality, from ribaldry to romance, from plausible humanity to caricature, from grounded reality to whacked-out fantasy, as if Helprin kept changing his mind about where he wanted the story to go and who he wanted his characters to be. Still, a lot of the book is funny, and I suspect it will have its admirers, if only because Helprin’s imagination never tires." Charles Matthews

NY Times Book Review 1 of 5 Stars
"Means too great directed at ends too little is called overkill—as when a person grabs a volume of the Britannica to go after a housefly; or when Mark Helprin concocts a novel of near-Tolstoyan heft to showcase a string of groaningly bad jokes while working through old truisms about wealth not buying happiness and love conquering all."
Sven Birkerts

Newsday 1 of 5 Stars
"Right before they parachute into the land that will eventually embrace them, Fredericka wonders, ‘Isn’t it better ... to think nothing than to think something that is completely idiotic?’ For a writer of Helprin’s caliber, it would certainly have been better to write nothing than this disappointing extended romp."
Kerry Fried

Critical Summary

Readers will recognize Prince Charles and Princess Diana in this farcical fairy tale about the contemporary ills of right-wing America and the British monarchy—and fans of Princess Diana will not be amused. Frederick and Fredericka is an imaginative story about politics and society that feels loose, undisciplined, and self-indulgent. (But hey, stop the presses—Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times liked a book!) Although the story moves along quickly, it nonetheless takes too long to reach its obvious, inevitable, and naïve conclusion. Some readers will enjoy the slapstick humor. Others will find many of the gags tired and overblown, and the tone, which varies from farcical to sentimental, irritating. But if you’re up for a royal misadventure, you’ll enjoy the good, lighthearted fun.