Mark Helprin's In Sunlight and In Shadow is perfect end of the year reading, especially if you have a vacation ahead of you. It's an unfettered ode to New York City—its architecture, its post-WWII freedoms, its dog-eat-dog capitalistic machine, its potential for romance. Unlike so many contemporary novelists, the book is written without a trace of irony or cynicism. At 700+ pages, it's a commitment, but well worth it, with indelible stories and descriptions throughout.
The novel follows Harry Copeland, fresh from war duty and back running the family leather goods business, as he falls in love again with the city he grew up in, as well as with Catherine, a burgeoning Broadway actress whom he spies on the ferry. What begins as a straight-forward love story blossoms into a thriller, and builds to a daring parallel escapades orchestrated to regain Harry's and Catherine's honor. He details class differences, focusing mainly on the 1%, and the everlasting bonds forged between soldiers in the trenches. Helprin cunningly adapts many skills honed in military training to life in the big apple, but he also recounts the simple, daily pleasures of that life as well.
Helprin tends to use five words where one would do. If you pulled out the passages that pay homage to New York's architecture and light, and of Catherine's beauty and gifts, you'd have a substantial tome. But his prose is so lush and pictorial that he's forgiven, and if you live in New York, or visit, you'll appreciate it all the more.
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