Book Review: In Sunlight and In Shadow by Mark Helprin


I just finished reading Mark Helprin's In Sunlight and In Shadow, a chunky book of 700 pages. A love story, a war story, a story of wealth, a story of New York after WWII.  

"Of the widest scope – from the air over Sicily to the heat-and-color-saturated Sacramento Valley; the Bay of Biscay to the sea off Maine; the steel mills of Gary, Indiana to the beaches of Amagansett; London in the blitz; the invasion of Normandy; and a single shell gliding across an American lake in August; from the luminous houses of the wealthy to the pounding of the boards beneath a Broadway chorus line – this is yet, first, and foremost a love story, but also a hymn to New York of the period when one great age elided into the other that we call our own. Rich in language and classical allusion, it is true to the mottoes at its outset: the Dantean “Amor mi mosse, che me fa parlare,” “Love moved me, and made me speak,” and to the lines of Lucretius that describe Catherine’s extraordinary representation of the powers, beauties, and graces of womanhood – “Nothing comes forth into the shores of light, or is glad or lovely without you.”

I am so mad right now. No happily ever after. No riding into the sunset. No walking hand in hand with the love of his life for the rest of his life. Harry chose and he chose wrong. It reminded me of the Suitable Boy in which the girl chose the wrong boy and I wanted to throw the book across the room.

I invested in the story, in the characters, in the setting, in the words so elegant and lengthy. I loved the descriptions, the discussions, the points to ponder. Then got thrown under the bus. I ranted and raved to my husband who reminded of a horrible book he bought me once that was supposedly a love story but told the history of every single character and every single place as it was introduced and even included the history of golf. An inside joke us since hubby is very verbose. Why explain it simply when you can tell the history of golf. And the dang book had it. But I read it because he bought it for me.

But I defended In Sunlight and In Shadow because I loved the writing. I loved A Winter’s Tale. I loved The Soldier of the Great War. I was sure I’d love ISaiS.  

Call it arrogance, ignorance, ego, sacrifice, a miscarriage of justice, pride, or whatever, but when Harry refuses to accept any assistance whatsoever in saving his business and decides to take on the mafia problem himself, he became a selfish fool. He let the mafia drive his business into the ground. He wasn’t a stupid man, yet he was. He made his choice and choose that over Catherine. Yeah for Catherine finally getting what she wanted and realizing she'd been seen, she'd been heard, and she could have a great singing career,  but she would have to do it without Harry. 

** for failing to live up to my expectations.