Wednesday, September 6, 2017

In Sunlight and in Shadow - Mark Helprin

In Sunlight and in Shadow
Title: In Sunlight and in Shadow
Author: Mark Helprin
Publication Date: 2012
Pages: 705
How I Found It: I can't remember
Date Completed: 8/10/17

Summary: Harry and Catherine seem fated to be together. Helprin explores their origin stories, their love story, and the complications of both. 

What I Thought: I've had this book on my shelf for ages. I picked it up at a used book store after hearing good things about it for ages before that. I cannot remember for the life of me where I originally heard about it, but I knew my expectations were high going in.

When I finally did sit down to read this book, I didn't even get past the cover before spending a few confused minutes on Google. At first glance, I thought this was written by the journalist Mark Halperin (of The Circus). Totally different guy, though. Don't be confused like I was.

Ok, let's talk about the actual book. From what I see on Goodreads, this book is rather polarizing. If you make it to the end (and it's a long hike there), you will understand why. The ending is bound to spark some sort of emotion. Other reviewers have also talked a good deal about Helprin's writing style. Some love his "lyrical" prose. Others find his style pretentious and too wordy.

I feel a bit alone in my feelings toward this book. I find myself solidly in the middle on about every semi-controversial discussion of this book. I liked Helprin's voice but didn't love it. He certainly has a way with words in moments, but this book definitely could've been edited down. I did not understand at all why we needed several chapters of flashback to Harry's war experience. I actually flipped back several times to make sure I hadn't missed something that was requiring us to know all that info. It was interesting but definitely not necessary to the story in my opinion.

I enjoyed Catherine's story line much more. We didn't get to see quite as much of it, but I related a lot more to her Broadway aspirations. Plus, that is a world with which I am inherently more familiar. Logically, I know we could have done with some trimming there as well.

While some readers seem to be shocked by the ending, I saw it coming about three-quarters of the way through the book. As Helprin worked up to his climax, I was thinking through how he was going to end this epic. He only had a few real options and after 500+ pages of his writing, I felt I knew him well enough as an author to make a solid prediction. I was right. I can't say I particularly liked the ending, but I really did not see many other logical choices for Helprin to make as a writer. I get why he did what he did. It was a clear conclusion for a story told from beginning to end. 

It's certainly a commitment to read this book. If you have the time and inclination, I think it's worth the effort. It's slow at times, but, overall, I thought the story was lovely. If you can get past some of Helprin's loquacious writing and you're ok without a "happily ever after" ending, then I think you could well enjoy this one. 

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Will I Re-Read: Unlikely

A Reduced Review: Helprin's writing is beautiful, but this novel could have been edited down for a tighter, more focused delivery without losing anything. 

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