three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
14-Jan-Feb-2005
user_rating: 
0

A-PacificStoriesMoving blithely over time, and places including New York, Spain, France and Israel, these 16 stories address belief, loss, and regret. In "Monday," an honest contractor renovates an apartment for a woman who lost her husband on 9/11. "Perfection," set in 1950s Brooklyn, features a Hasidic teenager and a Holocaust survivor who tries to save the "House of Ruth"—the "New York Yenkiss." An injured British parachutist attempts to contact his comrades in "A Brilliant Idea and His Own." And, in the title story, a young wife works in a welding factory while she waits for her husband to return from the South Pacific. All stories juxtapose belief in goodness, love, and duty against human nature and mortality.
Penguin. 366 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 159420036X

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Helprin’s magic is earthly, human. The stories range over many weighty subjects—war, the effect of Sept. 11, baseball, opera, even the life of Herman Melville—but always the focus is the same: on attaining holiness and practicing charity in an age obsessed with science and reason." Nick Owchar

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Indeed, more than anything else, The Pacific and Other Stories reveals Helprin’s debt to Hemingway. As in Papa’s best work, the characters here do not so much quest after grace as encounter opportunities to achieve it." John Freeman

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Mark Helprin just might be the most romantic writer in America. … By the end of the collection I found myself not so much wishing that Helprin were less a sentimentalist, less heavy-handed in his portrayal of love and politics and human nature, as that I had it in me to see the world as he does—a place where good and bad are easily recognized; where sadness carries the day from time to time but always evokes our better selves; a place, above all, where beauty reigns." Michael Knight

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"A miniaturist in describing how things work, Helprin becomes a generalist when writing about how people operate. His stories read more like fables than observations of actual human behavior." Jennie Yabroff

NY Times Book Review 2 of 5 Stars
"Many of these characters—whether actors, soldiers, impresarios or contractors—sound the same, as if they were standing on a hill with a pennon defying augury. … Ultimately these verbal flaws reflect a moral one. Helprin’s despairing men are there to make a point about America and in doing so they (and he) miss its power." D.T. Max

New York Times 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Helprin’s focus on moral absolutes seems to have hardened, if not calcified, and most of his philosophical excursions into fable-land result in heavy-handed, stage-managed fictions—works hobbled by simplistic, Manichean juxtapositions of good and evil, the noble past and the debased present. … predictable and unbelievable …" Michiko Kakutani

Critical Summary

Helprin, author of Ellis Island and A Winter’s Tale, brings to this collection his usual deep look into life, love, and war in prose as "glassy and smooth as amber" (Los Angeles Times). Yet, written over two decades, these stories befuddled a few critics. Some praised Helprin’s wise themes, character studies, dazzling prose, and detailed descriptions of how things, like baseball, work. Most agreed, however, that Helprin paints overly broad generalizations when it comes to people: honorable, brave men and beautiful women. "Jacob Byer and the Telephone," for example, has a fresh plot and protagonist, but a simple, emotionally unsatisfying moral at the end. Yet, even with faults, Helprin’s world still "takes on a kind of fairy-tale luster" (Washington Post). It’s just a matter of if you want it displayed in technicolor, or simplified in black and white.

Also by the Author

Winter’s Tale (1995): A mix of the mythic and real—a master thief, a dying girl, and one hundred years of Manhattan. A love it or hate it book, but we haven’t met anyone who didn’t love it.