Freddy and Fredericka will ascend the English throne only if they reacquire the American colonies and become noble spirits in an ignoble age.
Helprin's latest work, an extraordinarily funny allegory of a most peculiar British royal family, is immensely mocking of contemporary monarchy and yet deeply sympathetic to the individuals caught in its lonely absurdities.
Freddy is the Prince of Wales, Fredericka his troublesome wife. An overeducated, bumbling anachronism, Freddy commits one glorious gaffe after another, for which he is massacred daily in the British press. Golden-haired Fredericka, frivolous and empty headed, is particularly fond of wearing spectacular clothing with revealing necklines. Because of the epic public relations disasters caused by these wayward heirs to the throne, they are sent, in a little-known ancient tradition, on a quest to colonize a strange and barbarous land: America.
In a tour (de force) of the United States, they are parachuted into the gleaming hell of industrial New Jersey and make their way across the country ' riding freight trains, washing dishes, stealing art, gliding down the Mississippi, impersonating dentists, fighting forest fires, and becoming ineluctably enmeshed in the madness of a presidential campaign. Amid the collisions of their royal assumptions with their life on the road, they rise to their full potential, gain the dignity and humility required of great monarchs and good people, and learn to love each other.
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July 07, 2005
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Excerpt from Freddy and Fredericka by Mark Helprin
THE WIND WAS LUFFING over the tablelands of Skye as a storm built up at sea, but its slow passage promised hours more of sunshine and that the lakes would stay blue. Toward the end of a morning that for September was quite warm, a boy of Kilmuir was cutting across the open land on his way to Staffin. The way was long, with neither road nor path, but the more empty the places in which he travelled and the more space to separate him from all else, the more, in his eyes, he achieved.
At the northern tip of the Isle of Skye are mountains resting in a skirl of cloud risen from the firth. Here, storms are seen from far off and cannot surprise. They mount in black even as the sun shines upon the oceans of purple heather over which they will sweep. Sometimes, if the west wind is slow, the storms stay still and their bright thunderbolts flash like neon lights against unmoving walls of dark cloud.
One such storm had risen at sea and was at the back of the boy from Kilmuir. Like the farmer who fills the bin of his combine with a golden stream of grain, he had a sense of adding to his riches, not with every second that passed but with every step he took that carried him away from the settled world. He was fourteen and did not tire: his strength only grew as he crossed the flatland and climbed to the plateaux. Though the storm behind him billowed higher and higher, he was confident that were he not to slacken but rather to build strength upon strength and speed upon speed, he could outrun it. What a triumph not to have taken the road but to have crossed the landscape with no engine save his own heart.
With rhythmic ease, he ascended a wide apron of broken rock to what seemed the highest and most deserted plain in all of Scotland. For a moment, with his senses attuned to wind and sky, everything was perfect. But then perfection broke, when he saw, as if in a magazine advertisement come to life, a green Land Rover parked on a rise and facing west. Unlike most military Land Rovers, it gleamed. It had impressed into the grass a track that would take a year to heal. If twenty or thirty like it were set loose upon even so wide a place as this, they would crisscross it with thread-like cuts, collapse burrows, and crush nests.
Abandoning a line of travel that he had bent only to skirt lakes, he turned toward the offending object. Surely whoever had broken the spell of these Highlands was inauthentic, someone who did not and could not belong, who was soft and pale and would shrink before this young Scot who would shame him into going back to London or New York. Thus a victory of the wild over the settled, farms over industry, the pure over the polluted, the gold over the dross, the wheat the chaff, and so on, although it was true that he himself wanted quite badly to go to London.