I’m supposed to be studying for the FSOT. The Foreign Service Office Exam. The reading list is not a joke. To procrastinate and distract myself (I know) I have been trying to read other things between heavy books on conflict resolution and Middle Eastern history.
This particular book, I finished a few weeks ago. Freddy and Fredericka, by Mark Helprin. After reading Winter’s Tale this was a humorous change. As with his other works, it was incredibly smart. Usually when you’re in public reading a book– on the bus or at a restaurant bar, or waiting for your abs class to start– you read a funny passage in a book a chuckle to yourself, very quietly, or even silently in your head. Not so with this book. I laughed out loud at the gym, on the bus, and at work while eating my lunch. I couldn’t not laugh. Sometimes I actually cried I was laughing so hard.
Freddy and Frederica are the Prince and Princess of Wales. They are every vapid, silly and spoiled stereotype. We can already trust that Helprin writes an intelligent, witty and incredibly insightful story. Freddy and Fredericka are set to inherit the throne of England, but one thing stands in the way. Freddy must first pass a test; Craig Vyvan, the falcon, must lift off into the sky from Freddy’s outstretched arm. He has five chances to do this, but so far Craig Vyvan has not chosen to fly anywhere. Needless to say the kind and queen are quite worried and call on an ancient celtic magician (Merlin?) who nowadays works in a dildo factory in Naples, to teach Freddy and Fredericka all the lessons they need to learn before becoming Kind and Queen.
The task they are given, as Brits, is to reconquer the Colonies, those insolent ungrateful revolutionaries, and they are supposed to do it with no money, and initially, not even any clothes. By the end of the story Freddy and Fredericka have traveled from New Jersey through the Deep South, North to Chicago, and West to the Rocky Mountains. If they don’t conquer America in the traditional sense they do in a much more important and almost magical sense. They understand during their travels, while working menial jobs and finding joy in earning your own way that there is true happiness and contentment in finding out who you are truly. Instead of being trite, Helprin succeeds in writing a spectacular story about the American Dream and how it’s there for anyone who is willing to look inside themselves to achieve it.