In Sunlight and in Shadow
In Sunlight and in Shadow, the widely anticipated novel by Mark Helprin (A Soldier of the Great War, 1992) is a tale of Right against Wrong set in New York City at the end of World War II. Harry Copeland, former paratrooper, returns to the city to take over the family business. Finding the once-prosperous company heavily in debt for mob protection, Harry is trying to save it when he falls in love at first sight. Catherine is a gorgeous, talented actress with an incredible voice. She is also wealthy and socially impeccable, whereas Harry is a Jewish nobody with financial problems. (Remember, this is 1947.) But against all odds, Harry wins over her family and takes Catherine away from the rich and influential fiancé who has virtually enslaved her for years.
Now Harry has enemies. The protection payments become ruinous. Brutal enforcers attack his employees and beat Harry within an inch of his life. The mob, the police, and city politicians are aligned against Harry or won’t get involved in his troubles. Alone, Harry is powerless to provide Catherine with a life free of fear. The gods intervene in the form of a stranger with a plan to eliminate Harry’s enemies. Once Harry agrees to use his military skills, the pace of the novel accelerates towards a denouement in which the plan is carried out. The action is riveting, although it comes late and is quickly over.
In Sunlight and in Shadow is recommended for fans of Helprin’s fluid prose, but even they may find it florid here. Too much of the novel is a paean to beauty and love. Love’s consequences merit fewer pages and, in the end, far less compassion.