In Sunlight and in Shadow by Mark Helprin
Looks like I am the last to discover this incredible author. Consequently I had no preconceived expectation and was fully unprepared for his writing style. Initially I did not like the style, the story, or the fact I had committed myself to 700+ pages of it. I tend to read too fast and Helprin’s abundant detail forced me to slow down, to read differently, which ultimately made me savor the details and wish the story would not end.
Harry is freshly home from serving as a paratrooper in World War II and set to run Copeland’s, the fine leather goods company handed down by his father. He is unsettled after his wartime service and unsure about the future his father had laid out for him. With his duty to country behind him, Harry is just looking for a peaceful existence, hoping to meet someone he can settle down with, and maybe start a family. A chance meeting with a stranger will alter his life forever.
Catherine is an heiress and aspiring singer/actress with an amazing voice, about to make her debut in musical theater. She is engaged to a wealthy and powerful, older man who raped her when she was a young teenager and controlled her future ever since. He does not intend to quietly retreat from Catherine’s life.
New York City is as much a character in this book as any of the people represented. The city was pulsing with exciting postwar possibilities for the arts, industry, and finance. But under the surface it was also teeming with tension between society aristocrats, self-made men, discrimination, shakedowns, and organized crime.
Harry has a great sense of honor, integrity, and compassion. Catherine is persistent and courageous in more ways than immediately obvious. The couple is an unlikely match, but perfectly placed in a city that is equal parts glitter and grit. The setting contributes as much to the relationship as Harry and Catherine’s attraction to one another. All there is to love and hate about New York City is intertwined with the experiences of the couple and the eventual outcome of their story.
In a book of this size it is hard to believe there could be any loose ends; however I was left wanting to know a bit more about the man who aids the couple. Overall the book is terrific, the love story is tender, and the action scenes are frightening and fast. The wartime flashbacks are well done and the chapter simply called Snow is incredible. I reread it just this morning and believe it is one of the most touching pieces I have ever read.
After I finished In Sunlight and In Shadow, I realized days later I was still turning over the story in my mind. I don’t like to compare books; however the feeling was familiar, it was the same as when I read The Great Gatsby, one of my all-time favorites. I am sure any selector of literary fiction has already been planning to choose Helprin’s latest title for their collection. Place yourself on the waiting list now; meanwhile I will be looking for his previous works.
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