Book Simple: Prince Charles and Lady Di Finally Fall in Love
a blogumn by Amy Brown
There are quests you embark on because of the desire for adventure, for personal growth, to gain a kingdom. Then there are quests you start because some dude shows up out of the blue and shoves you out of an airplane. In the case of Freddy Finney, Prince of Wales, that dude is Mr. Neil, “a mould maker in a rubber sex toy factory in Naples.” It may seem odd that such a man would determine the fate of the heir to the British throne, but Freddy isn’t just any prince. He’s a prince with a terrible PR problem.
Mr. Neil explains: “You have betrayed your God, your country, your family and your dignity…In being an ass. You are supposed to be a king, not an ass. …Your explanations are irrelevant and demeaning. A king is not a hapless idiot. He does not allow such things to occur.” And Freddy has allowed quite a few misunderstanding to fester through the British tabloid press: he’s a character based on Prince Charles, married to a socialite wife, Fredericka, resembling a vapid Lady Di.
As Mark Helprin’s 2005 novel opens, the eponymous duo — not in love, not well suited — have taken their wealth and privilege for granted, and as punishment, Freddy and Fredericka are pelted from an airplane into New Jersey, tasked with subjugating the former colonies.
Needless to say, the two celebrity royals don’t find New Jersey to be “the bucolic flat land where vegetables are grown” they are expecting. The banks in the new world refuse to change their smuggled pounds sterling, and the haute couture Fredericka fashions out of their parachutes does not allow the castaways to blend in with the motorcycle gangs and Jamaican emigrants they meet. But eventually Freddy and Fredericka learn to survive in the new world, becoming art thieves, service workers, train-hopping vagabonds, security guards, servers at a Medieval Times-type restaurant, dentists, Forest Service rangers and political consultants. Along the way, they fall in love.
It’s not a particularly innovative story; every piece of it re-imagines some other work of literature, including a literal paraphrasing of the works of Shakespeare. At some points, it seems like the novelization of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickeled and Dimed. But the first two-thirds of the novel are full of absorbing, fast-paced and funny vignettes. Alas, Helprin drones on about American politics for a painfully long stretch, without nearly the same sharpness to his satire – much of the humor comes from the name of the candidate, Dewey Knott – and rather wears out his readers by the time Freddy comes back home, worthy to be a king.
I was on my own quest last week, a series of job interviews, and felt a decided sympathy for the put-upon Freddy and Fredericka, early in their undesired adventures. There is something so exhausting about explaining your life over and over, whether to an interviewer or to an angry monarch. As I flew across the country, finding gainful employment felt nearly as daunting as conquering an entire nation. But luckily Freddy could set me straight. “Being nowhere, on the way to somewhere, with music, on the open road” is the heartbeat of America. And in America, we are all kings.
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