Mark Helprin’s latest novel In Sunlight and in Shadow is one of my all-time favorite novels. There were passages, like in other Helprin’s books, where I stopped to reread whole paragraphs because I was so astonished by the beauty of the language and the meaning of the words.
One chapter ended on a note that left me with such a buzz, I put the book down and walked around for about 20 minutes before returning and rereading it. And I’m not easily moved.
Jay Nordlinger, senior editor National Review, feels the same way about the book and has written a three-part post titled The Gift of a Book.
…So, In Sunlight and in Shadow. What is it? It’s a love story, and just about the most intense love story you could ever read. I know Romeo and Juliet had the hots for each other, but like these two? Yet Helprin’s book is more than a love story. Its themes include honor, duty, religion, war, peace, the theater (yes), sacrifice, justice. Maybe justice above all. This is a big book, and unapologetically so. It’s not just long, it’s big in scope.
I am still living in the atmosphere of the book, and don’t want to leave it. I’m not sure it would be easy to leave, at this juncture, even if I wanted to. I’m going to do a series of notes on the book — regular readers are well acquainted with this drill. I’m not going to write a proper review. Rather, I will give you some quotations, reactions, thoughts.
I have no hope of doing justice to this great book — and when I say “great,” I don’t mean “great” as in, “Gee, Mrs. McAllister, this chicken casserole is just great.” I mean great-great. Still, I want to scribble some notes.
In Sunlight and in Shadow has a couple of epigrams. One of them is from Dante: “Amor mi mosse, che mi fa parlare.” “Love moved me, and makes me speak.” This was the motto, I believe, of Helprin’s very first book, A Dove of the East and Other Stories. And it answers the general question of why he does what he does — why he writes.
The novel begins with a prologue, proceeds with 47 chapters — all titled — then closes with an epilogue. The prologue and the epilogue are bookends, although I could cut my fingers off for typing that trite word. I mean, they match, searingly. There’s another trite word: “searingly.”
Good thing Helprin doesn’t write like this . . .
He told me once that he doesn’t mind if readers have to take some of his sentences slowly. If they have to work on them a little. Some of the sentences in the new novel, you do indeed have to take slowly. Some go by like the wind. Whole pages or chapters go by like the wind. And then, you need to slow down a bit.
I like this. I admire the pacing of the book, a great deal. Not everything need be beach reading — although you could read In Sunlight and in Shadow anywhere (and there are outings at the beach in it).
My copy came about two weeks before the November election. I started to read the first chapter and bounced right off it. My head was too wrapped up in politics to devote the patience necessary to appreciate the book.
It’s meant to be sipped, not guzzled.