Posted in Short Stories

“Perfection” by Mark Helprin

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I drew my first wild card for Week #9 of my Deal Me In 2014 project and chose Mark Helprin’s “Perfection” from Jay’s list at Bibliophilopolis.  He also sponsors the Deal Me In challenge.  And I chose this story because I was the one who recommended it to Jay (even though I had yet to read it, but I think – or at least hope – I disclosed that fact at the time of my recommendation).  I do need to make a note to myself, though, to check out the length of a story before I recommend it to anyone.  At 70 pages, “Perfection” pushes the limit of being considered short.  But I would say that it has the feel of a short story as opposed to a novella – and I finally got a baseball story!

Philosophy, theology, metaphysics, baseball, and the meaning of life can always be rolled up into a really good story.  Think about Kevin Costner hearing “If you build it, they will come” in Field of Dreams – definitely a religious experience (and based on the novel, Shoeless Joe, by W. P. Kinsella).  Helprin’s story may not be quite what Kinsella’s story is, but it’s enjoyable all the same.

A minor infraction of the rabbinical code involving Swiss chocolate causes Roger, an adolescent Hasidic Jewish boy, to pull the New York Yankees out of a slump:

Early in June of 1956, the summer in New York burst forth temperate and bright, the colors deep, the wind promising.  This was the beginning of the summer that was to see the culmination of a chain of events that had begun, like everything else, at the beginning of the world, but had started in a practical sense in March of the previous year, when the Saromsker Rebbe opened the wrong drawer.

Helprin skillfully brings to life a few famous people such as Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra, the latter complete with his unusual way of summing up the world.  I’ve always thought it a difficult task for an author to incorporate historical figures as fictional characters.  He also has some fun with accents and the Yiddish language.  When asked how much he weighs, Roger replies “Thirteen and three-quarter shvoigles”.  Not knowing the equivalent in pounds, he further indicates that “there are eight beyngaluchs in a shvoigle”.   Helprin’s warmth and humor remains in tact for the majority of the story.

However, a downside to the story does exist.  I’m not fond of the technique in which one of the characters gives a lecture or has a conversation where they explain the meaning of the story – just in case the readers don’t get it.  Personally, I think a good story can stand on it’s own.  And “Perfection” could definitely fall into this category without having Roger lecture the Yankees in the locker room as to the meaning of his involvement with them and the meaning of life in general.  Even so, I still got a little chuckle out of the lecture.

This story is included in Helprin’s collection Pacific and Other Stories. 

12 thoughts on ““Perfection” by Mark Helprin

  1. Hi Dale,
    Well, I won’t lie and deny that hearing how long this “short story” pleased me. 🙂 I always seem to end up with at least one per year that’s longer than my ideal. (One year it was a horrible sci-fi story; I never blogged about that one). Nonetheless, I am looking forward to reading Helprin, particularly Winter’s Tale. This story can be considered a warm up, I guess. Baseball’s not my sport, either… 🙂 the deck may be stacked against me with this one.

    1. Jay, I was almost going to predict whether you would like this story in my post.

      I don’t know if “too long” is grounds for replacement or not – but I won’t be offended by any means! I also don’t know how long Salman Rushdie’s “Christopher Columbus” story is either.

      That being said, Perfection could be a good story for a warm up to Winter’s Tale, but I don’t know if Winter’s Tale needs a warm up.

      If you keep it, I look forward to hearing you slam it…I mean hearing what you think about it.

  2. I used to be into baseball for the statistics, which gave me something to focus on while my friends whooped it up. I got that out of my system a decade or so ago, and now you couldn’t bribe me into watching a bball game.

    But the story sounds quite interesting! And anything involving chocolate gets my vote. 😉

    1. Candiss,
      It’s actually the chocolate that gets everything going in this story! I don’t go to that many baseball games anymore, either – every once in a while.

      But it seems like baseball lends itself well to fiction. I wonder if I can find short stories with other sports as the topic?

  3. Yeah, 70 pages would be long on the word-count end. Interesting that you thought it felt more like a short story. I occasionally think about form vs. length due to a college course that was supposed to be about that, but never was. The prof gave up on making any conclusions about two weeks in.

    I’m not a baseball fan, but I really like baseball stories. It seems to have more room for narrative than other sports.

    1. Sounds like an interesting class – or at least it could have been.

      Yes, I think baseball lends itself to fiction well. I don’t know if it’s the slower pace of the game or whether it’s a matter of it having more of a “history” than other sports.

  4. Hi Dale,
    Just checking in to say I bought this collection today, and I have drawn “Perfection” for next week’s story in DMI…. (I read Gogol’s “The Cloak” this morning. Great story.)

    1. Jay,
      I like Helprin’s writing style even if some structural aspects of this story were not appealing. I predict that this will by no means by your favorite story, but you will at least appreciate the way Helprin writes.

      I have also made a vow to never recommend a story that I have not first read!

      1. No worries, Dale. I’ve wanted to explore him anyway. If I like him, I have mores stories in the collection as fodder for future DMIs. 🙂

      2. I think you would find A Winter’s Tale enjoyable. I know that Mark Helprin has edited at least one of the “Best Short Stories” compilations. I’m not sure which year(s).

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