In Sunlight and In Shadow

In Sunlight and in Shadow - Mark Helprin, Sean Runnette

In conclusion: Unfortunately, I cannot whole-heartedly recommend this book to everyone, even though I loved parts. Some of the writing is beautiful and thought provoking, but there are verbose, sentimental, overly dramatic and sophomoric passages too. Whole chapters could/should have been completely eliminated. This book needs editing. The dialog IS often funny, but neither these clever lines nor the wonderful depiction of NYC save the book.

Every single woman mentioned is idealized. The two primary characters are beautiful, diligent, hard-working, moral, humble ....in other words simply too good to be true! The plot-line is sometimes long and drawn out, e.g. the war chapters, while the end is abrupt, unsatisfying and sappy. So much more could have been done with the ending.

I personally have no complaints with the narration of the audiobook by Sean Runnette, although my guess is that others will find it extremely slow. I thought the dialogs were in fact improved by the narrator's ability to catch the personality and class of the character speaking. It is the author's theorizing that is slow and ponderous, and this is not the narrator's fault.

So, how many stars? Parts I loved! I really did.....but then other parts were so overblown and never-ending. I am giving it three stars and recommending it to those readers who love NYC and philosophical tracts.

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Through chapter 37:

I am not thrilled by the chapters and chapters and chapters depicting warfare in Europe. They go on and on and on. Boring and terrible, dreary rather than exciting or interesting! Another minus - women are ridiculously idealized. So the book is not perfect. Maybe if I complain it will change? I hope so.

and.....

Even the lines have lost their beauty and become, in my ears, pretentious:

She was no different from Harry, when before the jump, hands in the same position, head bent or upraised, he leaned into his reserve shoot, as the plane rose and fell in the wind, and he too not quite prayed, asking for nothing. From Catherine and from Harry came absolute surrender, and to Catherine and Harry came the deepest strength. The current was strong and magnetic, the exchange electric and warm as everything came alight from what the blind of spirit took for darkness. Catherine felt her heart swell with strength and love….

Both Harry, in his parachuting from airplanes and fighting in battles, and Catherine fighting her own battles against injustice, are being compared and united in a common struggle. Both pray. For me the tone has become sophistic. The philosophical reasoning has gone over-the-top. This is rapidly going downhill. The magical prose has become soppy gibberish. Disappointing....but if I praise the start of a book and it then goes down-hill, I must report that too. Maybe I simply lack the religious faith necessary to appreciate these lines? However it is not just these religious lines that are sophomoric. Some of the prose glorifying music, beauty, love, goodness, honor are quite simply over-blown.

Then I listened some more and the scene shifts back to NYC....the description of NYC is wonderful ..... and then humor is thrown in. Catherine asks Harry for a definition of a nudnick! Harry's definition will surely make you laugh. Very funny! And she, Catherine of course, reads a digit wrong in her cookbook. With little cooking experience, given all the servants in her very wealthy family, she hasn't a clue how to cook a chicken. She puts it in the oven for 6 hours. You've got to laugh!

So I guess my views are mixed on this book. Parts I absolutely love; other parts make me moan with frustration and yawn with boredom. I would have appreciated better editing.

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Through Chapter 23:

I haven't quite made up my mind about the quality of the audiobook's narration. I love the tone of Catherine when she is REALLY mad. This lady, when truly annoyed, spits out lines that are scathing! The narrator's tone is spot-on! I like the s-l-o-w-n-e-s-s of the narration, but will others? I need it to give me time to think about what is being said. However there is often a peculiar upward lilt that is strange.

This book may annoy those readers who just want to follow a plot. This is a book where the author leads you off in all different tangents, taking quick perceptive psychological mini-trips. I just finished chapter 23 - "The Settee". It covers everything from Franklin D. Roosevelt, sensual love, acquiescence versus combat, religious discrimination to pride and the need to be financially independent. That is a wide range of subjects, isn't it? You will either love the writing or you will hate it. I love it. I was going to start copying the lines here, but I would have to copy the entire chapter. It went from one wonderful line to another. From one topic to another.The humor is perfect. Catherine's father knew FDR. There is the funniest story - tickling and being dumped into water.... The story is all imaginary. It is both hilarious and has a great message; one little story rolled into the rest of the chapter's events. Remember this chapter when you read the book and tell me if you too love it. Oh yes, I forgot to mention another funny line, about the color of Roosevelt's advisors. Read the book!

Some people may be annoyed by the philosophical meanderings. I am trying to warn off those readers who KNOW they prefer plot driven books; all the diversions will most probably drive them bonkers!

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In Chapter 9:

I am loving this, and I am kind of surprised. It starts with a ridiculous infatuation. But even if it is ridiculous, I like it! It is the writing. I actually believe that Helprin has captured how crazy people act when they fall head over heels in love.

There is humor. And it is my kind of humor.

Everyone knows of the "Roaring Twenties", and why the behavior of this period was a consequence of having survived WW1. Why is there so little literature about how people behaved after WW2.....other than books on the travails of the Jewish emigrates? This book seems to delve into this very topic. Hasn't there occurred a similar change in behavior and view on life after WW2? These people, those who survived the war, are the age of my parents. Fascinating to see why my parents thought as they did, looked on life as they did and made the choices they did.

Read this. Harry is back from the war. He is crazy for Catherine and Catherine for him, but she is about to be engaged to another. That future had been planned ten years ago. Do you simply accept past plans? What was good then is not now:

…sea, air and sun having evaporized everything but memory. He stopped in front of a black shoe missing its laces. It was preserved well enough that with some softening and polish it might have been back in service. The heel was hardly worn. He thought that had things gone differently it might have been his shoe and that someone else might have been standing in front of it as a grave, grasping the lapels of his tuxedo in a tight grip and pressing a bottle of champagne close to his thigh, as if he were the one who was dead, he spoke to himself, the one who was living, urgently charging him with life. He let the breeze force its way into his lungs and looked ahead at his objective….. (chapter 9)

After living through the war, would one just accept that which has been planned? Wouldn’t one go after what one really wants? At least you’d give it a hard fight!


Another book that takes place in NYC right after the war. I am loving the feel of the city, since I lived there in the fifties. I am right back there, in a place I recognize. I feel the city, its odors and sights and the whole "NYC atmosphere"!


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After only one chapter:


He had long known that to see a woman like this across the floor in receptions or in gatherings is as arresting as a full moon was arising within the walls of the room, but this was more arresting yet. And what was a beautiful woman? For him beauty was something far more powerful than what fashion dictates and consensus decrees. It was both what creates love and what love creates. For Harry, because his sight was clear, the world was filled with beautiful women whether the world called them that or not. (chapter one)

I am already sucked in by the language. Mark Helprin can certainly write! I love lines that make me think. By writing down these lines, listening carefully to the narrator, Sean Runnette, of the audiobook, I realize that reading a paper book gives you more time to ponder, to let your thoughts fly where they will, but Runnette’s narration is very slow. With excellent prose that is a plus!