IN SUNLIGHT AND IN SHADOW. By Mark Helprin. Houghton Mifflin. 705 pages. $28.
Mark Helprin’s new novel, “In Sunlight and in Shadow,” 700-plus-pages long, presents an almost too-eloquent prose that sometimes gets in the way of the story.
“To be in New York on a beautiful day is to feel razor-close to being in love. Trees flower into brilliant clouds that drape across the parks, plumes of smoke and steam rise into the blue.”
This is Harry Copeland’s city, a native New Yorker, recently returned from World War II. Struggling to stay afloat in his small business as the Mafia hounds him for protection payments, he meets Catherine and is instantly “in love with even the smallest detail of her.”
She is an heiress from New York’s aristocracy and a stage actress and singer just making her way to Broadway.
Against the backdrop and hum of the city, Harry pursues Catherine and is drawn into the world of the very rich, often awed by the inherent sense of entitlement and privilege.
Midway in the story, an abrupt turn takes us into a lengthy and distracting piece on Harry’s troubling wartime experiences before returning to the saga of the couple’s star-crossed future.
As lyrical as Helprin’s writing is, at times the bounty of detail begins to stretch the imagination, though the love story is compelling and beautiful.
Intended or not, there are many interesting parallels between this novel and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”: the lights across the bay, the rich (who are “different”), the love story and the Mafia connection.
But Fitzgerald managed to tell his story in around 200 pages.
Reviewer Frances Monaco is a writer based in Charleston.