“Perfection” by Mark Helprin

“Perfection” by Mark Helprin

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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.

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(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.”

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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…?

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13 Comments

  1. Nancy said,

    September 15, 2014 at 8:37 am

    I read A Soldier of the Great War and loved it, and then A Winter’s Tale which I also enjoyed. Magical Realism is not something I read a lot but I did like Helprin’s novels.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      September 16, 2014 at 12:16 pm

      I’m sure I’ll put a story or two from this collection on my Deal Me In list for next year. Magical realism is kind of hit or miss for me; perhaps one has to be in the right mood when reading it?

      Like

  2. bcw56 said,

    September 15, 2014 at 8:52 am

    I’ve been looking for some baseball-related short stories. I’ll check this one out! Thanks!

    Like

  3. Paula Cappa said,

    September 15, 2014 at 10:04 am

    I really liked Winter’s Tale (and the movie), if you like magical realism. Halprin’s writing was top quality but I’ve not read any of his short stories.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      September 16, 2014 at 12:18 pm

      I enjoyed the writing in this story a lot. There were many passages I highlighted – and probably should have included in this post. 🙂

      Like

  4. Dale said,

    September 15, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    Glad you liked it, Jay! I like the term magical realism. I had not heard that before, but it describes this story and A Winter’s Tale perfectly. I also liked the idea that Roger discovers things that the Rabbi’s had apparently been keeping from him. And of course…it’s about baseball.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      September 16, 2014 at 12:21 pm

      I hear the term most in the context of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s work. I remember in your post you didn’t enjoy the character “explaining” the meaning of the story, but I guess it didn’t bother me (probably because I needed the. Help in understanding!). Anyway, good story. It didn’t read as “long” as it is, and you were right, it feels more like a short story than a novella.

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  5. September 15, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    I am not a fan of magical realism but your review made me want to read this story!

    Like

    • Jay said,

      September 16, 2014 at 12:22 pm

      If you decide to read it, I hope you enjoy it. 🙂

      Like

  6. Jason M. said,

    September 16, 2014 at 10:13 am

    As a baseball nut and as as Jewish New Yorker, this sounds right up my alley! I confess to not being enamored of Mr. Helprin’s political writings, of course, which is probably why I’ve never sought out any of his fiction before.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      September 16, 2014 at 12:26 pm

      Hi Jason,
      I’m unaware (probably luckily so) of his political writings, but I did enjoy this story. Unlike you, I have “nothing in common” with the subject matter, but I still liked it. Maybe that is the mark of a skilled writer(?) Anyway, if you do decide to read it, I’d be interested in hearing what you thought of it from your perspective.

      Like

  7. November 14, 2017 at 10:27 pm

    Normally, I don’t like magical realism at all (and I’m not a fan of Helprin’s novels), but I do like most of his short stories. “Perfection,” however, is in a class by itself. It is my favorite “short story” of all time. I have re-read it many times — and I am not normally a person who re-reads things again and again. This story is so special. It makes me laugh and it makes me cry; it makes me stand up and cheer, and it makes me ponder and puzzle. What a masterpiece.

    Liked by 1 person


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