In Sunlight and in Shadow

Mark Helprin, Author
Mark Helprin. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28 (720p) ISBN 978-0-547-81923-5
Reviewed on: 07/02/2012
Release date: 10/02/2012
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Paperback - 720 pages - 978-0-544-10260-6
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Three decades after his seminal Winter’s Tale, Helprin offers another sprawling novel in which New York City is the participatory backdrop of a love story that begins as an American idyll only to be vexed by a legion of postwar anxieties. One day in 1946, Harry Copeland—recently of the 82nd Airborne and heir to his father’s leather goods company—spots Catherine Hale, a well-heeled songstress with a Bryn Mawr pedigree. The two fall immediately in love, despite the objections of Catherine’s powerful fiancé, and Catherine’s career is savaged in the fallout of this star-crossed affair, which, from Penn Station to the Ritz and back to Harry’s heroics behind enemy lines, swells to operatic grandeur over the course of 700 pages, drawing specters like anti-Semitism and the Mafia into its orbit and concluding with a desperate, violent scheme that will bring Harry’s wartime expertise to bear on his sense of justice. And yet, neither love nor New York has ever seemed less complicated: despite excellent set pieces, Helprin’s prose is often ham-fisted, his characters thin, and his invocations of Gotham Americana jingoistic. Still, there’s fun to be had, particularly when Gatsbyesque descriptions of “the great financial houses” run for pages, but subtlety is not the author’s strong suit, and the lack of moral ambiguity in his larger-than-life characters registers as a missed opportunity. Agent: Wendy Weil. (Oct.)
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