“Perfection” by Mark Helprin
For week 37 of Deal Me In 2014 (click here for details on the “Deal Me In challenge”), I drew the five of diamonds, which corresponded to the longest “short story” on my roster. At 62 pages in my copy, I think it’s in that limbo world between short story and novella. But no matter. I enjoyed the story, which was also my first introduction to Helprin’s writing.
Perfection is the tale of Roger Reveszhe, a young boy in post- World War II New York City being raised and educated by the Rabbi’s of his community. He is a Hasidic Jew and a holocaust survivor, with particularly terrible (even in the backdrop of those events) memories. He is clearly a special boy who thinks deeply about things and is beginning to chafe against the rigor and routines of an “orthodox education.” For me, the theme that intellectual curiosity cannot be contained – it will ’find a way’ to gain expression – made the story quite enjoyable. Having led a hitherto sheltered life, when Roger learns from friends that a radio is a window to the outside world. Naturally, he seeks and finds a radio, not getting what he wanted or expected, but finding something he likes nonetheless. I this way, he first discovers that, “Evidently, the rabbis kept certain things from their students. Wonderful things. Exciting things.”
Roger finds the radio at the shop of a butcher, Mr. Schnaiper, who listens “religiously” to broadcasts of New York Yankee baseball games. The Butcher’s understanding of the game, however – gleaned solely from the audio – is incomplete and at times his misinterpretations are hilarious. He calls them the “Yenkiss” and believes they are led by a superstar named, “Mickey Mental.”
(Yankee great, Mickey Mental, er… “Mantle”)
When Roger hears Yankee Stadium referred to as “The House that Ruth Built” he immediately thinks of the Ruth of the bible, leading to more humorous situations. Roger has a young friend Luba who, not wishing to appear ignorant, bluffs about knowing what the house that Ruth built looks like, conjuring up fantastical images. When Roger sees it finally, he realizes it’s different, but “it’s close.”
In the latter part of the story, Roger learns that the Yankees are going through a difficult seasons and, upon hearing that “Kansas City is going to kill them,” he decides to go on a sort of pilgrimage to help “Mickey Mental” save them. The story does drift into grounds a little too philosophical and supernatural for my tastes, but it was still an enjoyable ride – even if it was my first story this year that I wasn’t able to finish “in one sitting” (which is one of my favorite definitions of a short story).
I own this story as part of the collection, “The Pacific and Other Stories.”
What about you? Have you read anything by this author? What do you think of him? I have had his novel “Winter’s Tale” on my TBR list for quite a while now. Will this story finally stir me to action and make me pick it up…?