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Picks and Pans Review: Freddy and Fredericka

updated 07/11/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/11/2005 01:00AM

By Mark Helprin
FICTION

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For the first several chapters Freddy and Fredericka threatens to become an inside joke for royal watchers: Freddy is a jug-eared Prince of Wales whose phone calls to his mistress are published, to the distress of Fredericka, his beautiful, shallow princess. But the novel quickly spins off into fantasy: Because of their hijinks, the royal pair are sent by the sorcerer Merlin to America to prove their worthiness to the crown. As they traverse the U.S. by hopping boxcars, working as dishwashers and impersonating dentists, the book morphs into a rollicking, heartwarming examination of the state of the nation. Working his own magic, Helprin transforms the thinly veiled satire of the monarchy into a quirky love song to the colonies.

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