Mark Helprin Helprin, Mark (Vol. 7) - Essay

Helprin, Mark (Vol. 7)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Helprin, Mark 1947–

Helprin is a Jewish American author of short stories. A Dove of the East is his first collection.

A gifted voice, if one that seems, from time to time, a trifle in need of drying out, Mark Helprin has collected a fair number of his immensely readable stories [in A Dove of the East and Other Stories], some of them quite superb, such as the first tale, "A Jew of Persia," and the title story. The author's special capacity, and it is a peculiarly seductive one, being so out of date, is the transmission of values as the unspoken and underlying dramatic force of his fiction. Splendid, brave old men fight their life's battles with skill and cunning while their callow and vacuous sons stand by, bested; or splendid old men lie in homes for the aged and dream of the past—not foolish, self-centered dreams of their youth, but rather dreams of affirmation, of life-enhancing values. Mr. Helprin's old-fashioned regard shines through all his characters' speeches, and his endorsement gives them eloquent tongues. Now and again the stories lapse into archness, and at times, too, their willed drama bears down too heavily. But these are small flaws in works so estimably full of talent and—the word must out—of character. (p. 39)

Dorothy Rabinowitz, in Saturday Review (copyright © 1975 by Saturday Review/World, Inc.; reprinted with permission), September 20, 1975.

[A Dove of the East and Other Stories] brings to mind a workbasket full of pretty projects, all unfinished. The author affects a dreamy, antique style for the telling of his wispy romances, then turns most of them into shaggy-dog stories by refining atmosphere at the expense (nearly total) of plot and characterization. There's a fatiguing sameness of tone throughout, though the settings are ambitiously diverse. It appears that Helprin is striving for loveliness above all else, a tasteful but hardly compelling goal for a teller of tales. (p. 108)

Amanda Heller, in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1975 by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), October, 1975.

[In A Dove of the East, Mark Helprin's] acumen is under constant siege from his anti-Golan rabbinical Jewishness so that the title story, about an Israeli patrolman who risks much by attending to a dove when he should be making war, bears the thumb marks of sanctimoniousness and sentimentality on its neck which reduce its vigour considerably, although the moral is not made trite.

Mr Helprin's image of himself as the teller of tales, the reader of scrolls, the prick in balloons, is more suitably put to in 'The Jew of Persia', a strong piece of old pottery incorporating the Devil, newly glazed, and sensibly placed first in the book: no hubris here. Several of the other stories have already been printed in The New Yorker. Geographically they run from Cape Cod through the capitals of Europe to the Middle East. A few are unbeatably vague, a young girl with long white hands transfixed by this and that, a salty man in whom salvation is presented as smashing your pinnace into rocks with a square jaw and a wonderful sense of speed, Katherine Mansfield carrying kippers. But if he over-relies on our recognising the intrinsic majesty of these events it is because he is also a seeker after truth. Bits of it are squittering out all over the place, sufficiently to fuse into à magnetic centre and make one recognise that the book is not written by a fool. (p. 23)

Duncan Fallowell, in The Spectator (© 1976 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), April 24, 1976.