Freddy and Fredericka tells the tale of two familiar characters: a large-eared English prince prone to muck up public relations at every conceivable opportunity, and his blonde consort, a princess who is as ditzy as she is beautiful. But instead of degenerating into the cheapened tabloid tragedy of Charles and Diana, the lives of Freddy and Fredericka are suddenly and miraculously redeemed by an unexpected series of events -- on the orders of the mysterious "Mr Neil," the apparent power behind the British throne (the name's an anagram, hint hint), they are parachuted naked into New Jersey with the understanding that they are to remain in exile until they can win back the American "Colonies" and reincorporate them into the British Empire.
If the plot at this point sounds ridiculous, it only becomes stranger and more fanciful. Freddy and Fredericka, during the course of the novel, find themselves battling Neonazis, driving hotdog mobiles, posing as dentists from a state whose name they can't pronounce, and managing a presidential campaign (which is perhaps the most farcical incident of all), along with many other strange and magnificent adventures that I won't give away. Helprin has crafted an amazingly hilarious book that, while lighter and more readable than his earlier efforts A Soldier of the Great War and Winter's Tale, still manages to be moving. The farce is somewhat unsubtle (Fredericka's dog is named Fah Kew, and whenever it goes missing, perpetually misunderstood Freddy must roam the streets screaming "Fah Kew! Fah Kew!" in the earshot of horrified and insulted citizens), but is most often absolutely, uproariously funny and, incidentally, perfectly suited for a film -- will we see our first Helprin movie in the near future? One can only hope.
In sum, Freddy and Fredericka is a little long for such a lighthearted book, but with its fast pace, parade of fantastic characters, and picaresque roots (it reads like a postmodern, slightly Nabokovian Huck Finn) it is a novel that most anyone can enjoy, while diehard Helprin fans like myself will be over the moon. Mr. Helprin's first novel in ten years does not disappoint -- it is a marvelous, gripping story that had me crying both tears of laughter and of emotion.