By Mark Helprin
Love, honor, death and perfectionism. These are the recurring themes in the new short-fiction collection by Mark Helprin, best known for his novel Winter's Tale. In the heartbreaking title story, "Pacific," a wife imagines that the precision of her welds at the weapons factory can keep her husband safe in combat during World War II. In "Monday" a contractor's crew races to complete a house renovation, hoping exquisite cabinetry and flooring will ease the pain of a 9/11 widow. Honor, for Helprin, is a matter of forming the right relationship—to beauty, to work, to the act of dying. The old man who launches his boat into a hurricane in "Sail Shining White" is one of several characters who stage their own death. Although Helprin's prose dazzles, not every story soars. Too often, characters lack complexity and serve merely as cutouts for the author's moral preoccupations. Yet the book achieves a rich heft rarely found in story collections.