While it's true that less is sometimes more, that principle
apparently doesn't apply to the books of Mark Helprin, nor would
his readers wish for less. FREDDY AND FREDERICKA is a vast,
sprawling book of Homeric proportions and design in which Helprin
exploits to the fullest his powers of invention as well as a lesser
known talent for comedy; for unlike the Iliad and the Odyssey,
FREDDY AND FREDERICKA is a comic epic, a genre famously defined by
Henry Fielding in the 1742 preface of his novel JOSEPH ANDREWS.
Some scholars believe Homer himself may have written a comic epic
or a mock epic called the "Margites," of which only a few fragments
Helprin's comic epic differs from the classic model only in its use
of comedy, otherwise addressing important and serious matters, with
the action centering on a courageous hero who in some way is above
the common man --- like Jason or Odysseus or, in this case,
FREDDY AND FREDERICKA is also a poignant love
story-that-might-have-been), for Freddy is transparently (based on)
Prince Charles, Fredericka just as transparently (based on) Diana,
whose death in 1997 ended their troubled marriage.
At the center of Helprin's tale, as in classical epics, is a quest.
Here the quest is necessitated by unscrupulous newspaper publishers
who embark on a campaign of defamation targeting Freddy, which
seems certain to disrupt his accession to the throne.
In crises such as this one, the royal family has traditionally
relied on a mysterious figure known only as "Mr. Neil," who appears
as if by magic and provides whatever guidance is needed. In this
situation, Mr. Neil says it is necessary to dispatch Freddy and
Fredericka to reclaim Britain's lost colonies in North
So off they go, parachuting into New Jersey at night through clouds
of noxious fumes and landing in a pool of chemical waste. Without
clothing or identification, and having only their discolored
parachutes to conceal their nakedness, they boldly set out to
conquer the United States and restore it to its rightful
In a wild proliferation of subplots and digressions, this odd
couple's journey "on the road" is like a Three Stooges marathon,
but interspersed with '40s melodrama, as well as a little
seriousness here and there.
Like the alien Coneheads of the early days of "Saturday Night
Live," who explained their unusual appearance with a terse "We come
from France," Freddy and his spouse tell suspicious Americans:
"We're dentists." And as readers might suspect, it's this cover
story that ultimately takes them in the right direction.
Reviewed by H.V. Cordry on January 22, 2011
Freddy and Fredericka