In Sunlight and In Shadow

In Sunlight and In Shadow

If you want to write, you must read – that’s probably the single most common piece of advice given to writers.  So as I work on my own writing, it’s worth looking at what I’m reading right now.

Currently, I’m about halfway through Mark Helprin’s latest novel, “In Sunlight and In Shadow.”  His first novel, “Winter’s Tale,” is not only one of my favorite novels, but without any question the best novel I’ve ever read.  Hands down.

Like “Winter’s Tale,” the new book is set in New York City.  Unlike the earlier book, which opened around the beginning of the 20th century and ended just as the 21st began, and which is filled with the fantastical, “In Sunlight” restricts itself to a mostly realistic portrayal of immediate postwar New York (with occasional flashback to the hero’s World War II service). 

The writing is beautiful; Helprin’s descriptions transport the reader to 1946 Manhattan with great skill.  But, unlike his earlier novel, in a way it’s all too much.  “Winter’s Tale” was epic in scope, but this new book, although it tries to be, simply is not.  The weight of the prose, beautiful as it is, isn’t supported by the story or the characters.  Helprin’s command of the language and the skill with which he uses it demands a more weighty and “important” (if that’s the right word) subject than whether our hero can overcome the fact that he’s Jewish and his beloved is both a Protestant and an heiress to a huge fortune; and if he can save his father’s business from bankruptcy at the hands of mafia extortionists.

I guess, at least halfway through, I still would recommend the book even if it doesn’t really work as well as it should; Helprin’s prose is worth reading anyway.  But I’d urge anyone reading this to go right out and pick up “Winter’s Tale” – I promise you won’t regret that.

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