Nearly 40 years after Mark Helprin's first short story was published in the New Yorker, the talented author continues his exploration of the genre with The Pacific and Other Stories. In his first book in almost 10 years, Helprin offers up 16 stories of mostly ordinary people whose outward peace masks the turbulence within their souls. Helprin's characters are all ages and sexes, and live in such disparate locales as Venice, Brooklyn and Israel. But what they all have in common is a quiet faith in their own ability to make a difference.
In Monday, a middle-aged contractor who still believes that an honorable life is a worthy one, bestows an unheard of gift upon a young widow. In Perfection, a slight Hasidic boy shows Mickey Mantle, Casey Stengel and the rest of the New York Yankees how the game of baseball should be played, with a Yiddish twist.
All of the stories are to the point one person, one problem. But such problems! Drifter Jacob Thayer, for example, must convince the inhabitants of a small town in turn-of-the-century Europe that the telephone is not God. In the title story, a young woman works in a factory while her husband fights World War II in the Pacific. She takes a small house in San Diego overlooking the ocean so there is nothing separating them but water.
Helprin skillfully bounces back and forth between whimsy and tragedy. The stories' lack of connectedness is a thread in itself, a statement of humanity's infinite capacity for sorrow and joy. Each of the men and women in this book are introspective, although they somehow contrive to be so without acknowledging any flaws in themselves. For better or worse, they've lived their lives to this point and now they are all searching. They are looking for love, death, hope, God and the better part of themselves. Ian Schwartz writes from New York City.