Friday, November 8, 2013

Hobnobbing with My Favorite Living Novelist

To be in New York on a beautiful day is to feel razor-close to being in love.  Trees flower into brilliant clouds that drape across the parks, plumes of smoke and steam rise into the blue or curl away on the wind, and disparate actions each the object of intense concentration run together in a fume of color, motion and sound, with the charm of a first dance or a first kiss.  
Isn't that wonderful?  Don't you smell it and taste it feel it in your bones?  I do.

Mark Helprin paints pictures infused with love and an up;-close and personal attachment to the fiber of the city.  He's in love with Manhattan, from the Staten Island Ferry all the way to Central Park.  He knows what it looks like as you approach from Long Island,  driving past the
early commuter trains with sleeping passengers leaning against the windows rumbl(ing) west to a city sleeping in gray.
I've been that sleeping passenger, nestled next to my father. I'd felt the same frisson of energy and excitement  as the cliff tops of Manhattan came into view, and the absolute certainty that this was The City.  There were no others.

Mark Helprin spoke at the Literary Society of the Southwest's season-opening luncheon on Thursday.  The Tucson Country Club was open and airy and the windows showcased more greenery than I've seen in months.  I was one table over from the main attraction, talking about Christina-Taylor and fame and doing good and, of course, our children and where they are and what they're doing and how 20-somethings today don't see gender or color or race in the same way that we did .

The speakers are sometimes less than wonderful at these events; the conversation never disappoints.

As dessert was served, the author was introduced.  Harvard and Harvard and Princeton and Columbia and that's just where he received his education, not the places he's shared it.  His biography was as impressive as his full head of hair.  He described himself as short  but, to me, he was a giant.

Speechifying is not his long suit.  Neither is reading from his book.  I loved his explanation: he wanted me to have my own experience as I interacted with the printed page.  If he read it aloud, there was one  and only one interpretation - his.  I feel the same way about music videos; I like to make up my own stories to the songs.

I wasn't surprised that we agreed.  I told you, he's my favorite living novelist.

He told corny jokes, and I'm not sure why.  More interesting were his stories of run-ins with book reviewers ("MMM KKK hates me, always has, always will") and the stories about his parents.. His father's Mark Cross briefcase which was given to him as he set off for college, his grandparents gifting his mother to a theater troupe and a life of indentured servitude and abuse, these were told with an ease and comfort that revealed the human behind the seller-of-his-book.

The story of In Sunlight and In Shadow is one of love.... but that would be my answer.  When asked, I've told people that it's a love story set in and about New York City after WWII, and that's fine as far as it goes. When he was asked the same question this afternoon, Mr. Helprin gave a laundry list of topics which I began to jot down in my moleskine until I realized that I was listening to a modern day recounting of the ships on their way to Ilium, with Homer naming and explaining them, on and on and each one obvious and yet revelatory, and I was swept up in the cadence and the careful retelling of the story as he listed artistry and the Mafia and bankers and .....  I was having a moment, I must admit.

At the end of the question and answer session, I raced to his side.  Okay, I strode more quickly than I usually stride.... I'm still  far away from racing anywhere. I told him that he was "my favorite living novelist" and he neither blushed nor stammered.  He looked right back at me and said "Thank You."  I talked about the snow sled from Winter's Tale and Daddooooo being the same age and in basically the same business as Harry, the main character in Sunlight .  I told him how I'd taken that ride into Manhattan, and seen the sunrise, and known that I was in love.  I complimented him on taking me back to the rolling garment racks on 7th Avenue  and how I couldn't remember the last time I'd cried at the end of a novel.  He took my book and inscribed it with my name and his and I floated out to my car.

It was a very good day, and I was here to see it.


  1. I love meeting authors. They are just amazing people. Anyone that can write a book and have it be good is top notch in my book (no pun intended). Being able to describe emotions in words in just something I'm not that good at. So I admire anyone that can convey feelings, a scene or action with their writing.

    Have a great weekend.

    Megan xxx

  2. I loved Winter's Tale, inordinately. (I've never re-read it, however, although I did recently buy the Kindle edition.)

    Some years later, though, I came across something MH had written for the National Review or some similar outlet. It might've been in connection with 9/11 and/or Iraq, can't remember for sure. But it was shockingly, hideously uncharitable -- illiberal in the worst sense. I was so disappointed I never read anything else he'd written.

    But this was a lovely writeup of your encounter with him. I probably should just stop nurturing philosophical grudges (a practice illiberal in its own regard).

    1. yes, his politics are abhorrent...... read tomorrow's post and THANKS for the prompt!


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