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In Sunlight and in Shadow by Mark Helprin
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In Sunlight and in Shadow (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Mark Helprin

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2671442,587 (3.32)7
Member:MarshaKT
Title:In Sunlight and in Shadow
Authors:Mark Helprin
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Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:New York, Historical Fiction, Suspense

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In Sunlight and in Shadow by Mark Helprin (2012)

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The first time I sunk into one of Mark Helprin’s huge, atmospheric novels I wondered how it was this man was not better known. But he is well known as a maker of epics, I just didn’t know it then. That first brush with Helprin was A Soldier of the Great War which so enraptured me I thought I’d never read another that was as good. Later, a professor friend of mine told me he “couldn’t get through it.” Older now, I wonder if it isn’t the fantastical quality of the romance, or the steel thread of Ayn Rand-like self-reliance that runs through his work that put my friend off.

Helprin, having attended Harvard, Princeton, and Oxford, has had access to the lives of the monied classes and unashamedly uses that access to create lavish sets for his novels. His insights into this exotic world waltz us off into dreaming how it would be if…which might actually be more fun than actually living in that constrained and rule-bound world. To be reassuringly safe from the vicissitudes of having enough to eat or clothes to wear, this is the stuff of romance. I am less susceptible to those fictions now, but I can see its attraction for many.

This is another impossibly romantic tale centered on a great love between a New York Brahmin and a New York Jew. We are treated to the lush scenery of a minutely-observed post-War New York City, and to the problems encountered by small businessmen trying to keep their businesses viable while paying out protection monies on a weekly basis. The outlines of Helprin’s characters are carefully and completely drawn, and are then filled in with great swathes of color and fabric and angled light—that sunshine and shadow comes at us from every direction.

What I noticed and celebrate again is Helprin’s unequalled ability to observe and then relate the way the water in the wake of a ship, for instance, curls and moves and vaporizes, indicating current, direction, wind speed, tide levels…so much is caught in his web of words we can taste the salt spray. It leaves me gasping.

Helprin takes his time over this novel, moving back and forth in time, as expansive on the state of play in the garment district of New York as on the honeyed beaches of Long Island. There is a brilliant set-piece in which the aspirant for the hand of the heiress meets her parents for the first time. They eat dinner at the beach house on Long Island and the conversation is so elliptical and constantly shifting that one feels the danger in the meanings behind the words like hidden shoals upon which one might be wrecked.

The cast of characters is large, but completely manageable in Helprin’s hands. We get Manhattan: the theatre district, the garment and financial districts, the shops, the bustle, the 1950’s coffee shops with menus and waitresses. It is a brilliant reconstruction that must tempt more than one filmmaker to try it on. But it is too large a thing for a film; others have already tried to make films of Helprin’s novels (A Winter’s Tale), and they must realize it is too…hopelessly romantic for our hard-bitten and seen-it-all audiences today.

I listened to the audio of this novel, and it went on for days while I worked on endless tasks. The inflectionless voice of the narrator, Sean Runnette, was not appealing at first, but this is a long story, and perhaps his style is what was needed. It was a little like being read to by one’s parent at bedtime instead of by a professional reader. Not what one would have chosen, but it becomes familiar. Helprin is still writing epics and he has a unique viewpoint that gives us romance like no one else.


( )
  bowedbookshelf | Oct 6, 2014 |
Helprin's writing is as beautiful as ever, perhaps more so. I was disappointed with the ending, because to me it seemed merely to stop, rather than resolve. Still, an excellent read. Mark Helprin writes like no one else. ( )
  LiamKincaid | Jun 2, 2014 |
Long and slow in some places. Description deserves an A+, but the story went on a lot longer than it needed to. Some of the scenes were so beautifully described, I didn't want them to end. I somehow get the feeling that this author can be a bit overrated. ( )
  briandrewz | Mar 16, 2014 |
This book was a tough slog to finish. It is easily the worst of Mark Helprin's works I have read (I greatly enjoyed A Winter's Tale, A Soldier of the Great War, Freddy and Fredericka, and Ellis Island and Other Stories). My basic problem was the writing. A least a couple of times every page I read a sentence, did not understand the metaphor, then went back and read it again and then still only vaguely (or not at all) understood it. Also, I was driven a little nuts by all the descriptive references to light and colour - over and over again. There were a few good sections - the details of one of the main characters leather-goods business troubles, his experience as a pathfinder in WWII, his engaged and then wife's struggles and triumph in the theater. I rather liked the ending which I didn't anticipate. For the effort that was required by this book the payoff wasn't worth it. ( )
  wjburton | Feb 28, 2014 |
As I was reading this over-the-top paean to paratroopers, feminine beauty, love across class lines, the theatre, and New York after the Second World War, I kept rolling my eyes and wishing the author would get on with it. As the plot alternates from one arena to another the reader is treated to the bombastic musings about life of just about every character, and the author's keen sense of place. I kept with it down to the end, which was somewhat satisfying if highly predictable. After finishing, I wondered what the NY Times had to say about it. Michiko Kakutani called it "laughably awful." Ouch! I still think I am going to recommend this to my spouse -- and not because I want to punish her.... ( )
  jpe9 | Aug 7, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
It’s incredible that this story — or, to be more precise, these stories — hasn’t been told before. Except that, of course, it has, and they have . . . though never before in more than 700 consecutive pages, between the covers of one book.
 
"In its storytelling heft, its moral rectitude, the solemn magnificence of its writing and the splendor of its hymns to New York City, the new novel [In Sunlight and in Shadow] is a spiritual pendant to 'Winter's Tale,' and every bit as extraordinary. . . . [T]he writing throughout 'In Sunlight and in Shadow' sounds as though it were scored to some great choral symphony."
added by sgump | editWall Street Journal, Sam Sacks (Oct 2, 2012)
 
Elegant, elegiac novel of life in postwar America, at once realistic and aspirational, by the ever-accomplished Helprin. ... A fine adult love story—not in the prurient sense, but in the sense of lovers elevated from smittenness to all the grown-up problems that a relationship can bring.
added by ablachly | editKirkus (Sep 1, 2012)
 
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Epigraph
Life-giving Venus, who beneath the gliding
stars of heaven
Fills with your presence the sea that bears our
ships
And the land that bears our crops. . .
You alone govern the nature of things,
And nothing comes forth into the shores of
light
Or is glad or lovely without you. . . .
- Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, I
Dedication
First words
Prologue:  If you were a spirit, and could fly and alight as you wished, and time did not bind you, and patience and love were all you knew, then you might rise to enter an open window high above the park, in the New York of almost a lifetime ago, early in November of 1947.
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Book description
Postwar New York glows with energy. Harry Copeland, an elite paratrooper who fought behind enemy lines in Europe, has returned home to run the family business. Yet his life is upended by a single encounter with the young singer and heiress Catherine Thomas Hale, as they each fall for the other in an instant.

Harry and Catherine pursue one another in a romance played out in Broadway theaters, Long Island mansions, the offices of financiers, and the haunts of gangsters. Catherine’s choice of Harry over her longtime fiancé endangers Harry’s livelihood and eventually threatens his life. In the end, it is Harry’s extraordinary wartime experience that gives him the character and means to fight for Catherine, and risk everything.

Not since Winter’s Tale has Mark Helprin written such a magically inspiring saga. Entrancing in its lyricism, In Sunlight and in Shadow so powerfully draws you into New York at the dawn of the modern age that, as in a vivid dream, you will not want to leave.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0547819234, Hardcover)

Q&A with Mark Helprin

Mark Helprin

Q. In Sunlight and In Shadow has been likened to both your Winter’s Tale and A Soldier of the Great War. What do you say to that?

A. When I wrote Winter’s Tale, I’d often walk ten or twenty miles a day through New York, taking in overwhelming rafts of imagery, sounds, views. And when I wasn’t doing that, I virtually lived at The New York Historical Society, just as I had jeopardized my freshman year in college by sitting on the floor of the stacks at the New York section, mesmerized by one book after another.

The result of these obsessions was to live in the world of New York circa 1900 as if I were really there, as if it were still bustling invisibly right where it had been, and I could see and feel it. The book opens with, “I have been to another world, and come back. Listen to me.”

With In Sunlight and In Shadow, the effect is perhaps stronger, and, for me, easier. It takes place not in a world I had to seek but one – New York in the 40s – into which I was born. The density and accuracy of the images, the onrush of memory, the stunning recollections of sound, speech, song, dress, all came easily. The people in In Sunlight and In Shadow are, with great poetic liberty, people I knew and/or loved – even the gangsters, the financiers, the actresses, intellectuals, soldiers, and factory workers.

When I finished A Soldier of the Great War, I gave it to several Italians to see if the pitch was correct, but with In Sunlight and In Shadow I didn’t have to do that, because there is nothing I know better. The book is like Winter’s Tale in that I have made it as obsessively truthful and beautiful as I could, in the hope that a reader may feel that he is in the book rather than where he is, and perhaps even wish to remain for a while, as in waking from a dream.

It’s unlike Winter’s Tale and more like A Soldier of the Great War in that in it one doesn’t depart from the texture of reality, as exceptional and intense as that reality may be. When my father read Winter’s Tale, which I had dedicated to him shortly before he died, he said, now you’ve got to write a book as enchanting as this but in which every element is possible in the real world in which we live. Then you would have something really marvelous.

That’s what I’ve tried to do. Whether or not I’ve succeeded is not for me to judge, but I can say that writing the book gave me the same feeling, persistently over time, and always strongly, as falling in love. I’m not quite sure what that means except that it’s great to have a job that you would do even if you weren’t paid for it.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:42:58 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Returning home after serving in World War II to run his family business in New York, paratrooper Harry Copeland falls in love with young singer and heiress Catherine Thomas Hale, who risks everything to break off her engagement to another man.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 2 descriptions

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