In Sunlight and in Shadow

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I was pointed to this 2012 book by National Review’s Summer Reading List 2020, a recommendation by Alexandra DeSanctis. I got it on a curbside pickup from Portsmouth Public Library, a two week loan, about 700 pages, which meant I had to polish off fifty pages a day. That's a little fast, especially when the author, Mark Helprin, is a wonderfully lush writer, inviting you to linger over lovely lengths of description and musing. Sorry, Mark, we're on to the next page already!

It's (mostly) set in postwar New York City and environs, and things kick off when our hero, Harry Copeland, espies the lovely Catherine Hale aboard the Staten Island Ferry. It is love at first sight, and it does not run smooth. First of all, she's betrothed to Victor, who turns out to be kind of a bad guy. That has to be undone. The business that Harry's inherited, purveying fine leather products for retail sale, gets targeted by a nasty mobster. And Catherine, who (it turns out) has a supporting role in a Broadway-bound musical find her career path threatened by mysterious corrupt influences.

So: it's a love story, and it might make you feel a little guilty about the depths of your devotion to your own Significant Other. Harry and Catherine never make the mistake of taking their relationship for granted.

There is a long flashback to Harry's wartime experiences, as part of an elite unit performing particularly dangerous operations behind enemy lines. This sets up for the book's climax, but no spoilers here.

The plot is character-driven, by which I mean that the stuff that happens seems inevitably guided by the sort of people Harry and Catherine (and the supporting cast) are. Many decent, some impressively heroic.

Jay Nordlinger (it turns out) had a five-part essay on the book at the National Review website back in 2013. If you're interested: Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five.

Here's a bit I found amusing: one of the characters notices a movie poster and we're obviously meant to think that it's the inspiration for a famous fictional character.

[Dear Ruth]

See it? Obviously true, right?

But wrong, according to Wikipedia:

Although it is sometimes mistakenly believed that J. D. Salinger got the name for his character Holden Caulfield, in The Catcher in the Rye and other works, when he saw a marquee for [Dear Ruth] the first Holden Caulfield story, "I'm Crazy", was published in December 1945, a year and a half before the movie's release.

So: it's an unbelievable cosmic coincidence.

Last Modified 2024-02-02 4:54 AM EDT