Book Talk: In Sunlight and In Shadow

7:00:00 PM

At 720 pages, In Sunlight and In Shadow is without a doubt the lengthiest book I've read this year. It may also be the most challenging for me to discuss.

Although I actually purchased a copy of In Sunlight and In Shadow this summer, I ended up listening to the audiobook during my commute. If I'm being completely honest, I'm not sure I would have made it through this one if I had been reading the physical copy. But I'm so, so glad that I did.

It took me about 3 weeks, listening a couple hours a day, to make my way through, and though I had moments of doubt, I soon felt as though I had been immersed in someone else's vivid dream - and I didn't want it to end.

Rather than relief or satisfaction, the overwhelming emotion I felt when I finally finished the novel was sadness - I had spent hours of my life getting to know Henry and Catherine and their world, like an old Hollywood movie, and when their story came to an end I didn't want to let them go.

Helprin's writing has been described as lyrical, and I agree - his writing has an almost musical quality. The pacing and rhythm of the language is just as important to this novel as the actual story being told. But his writing, while beautiful, also borders on pretentious. He never uses one word to describe something when half a dozen will do better, and his descriptions of people and places, while vivid, could also be used as some kind of collegiate literary exercise - I mean, brobdinagian? Really?

This story is disarming in both its complexity and it's simplicity. It's a story that tackles the issues of generations - of class differences, socio-economic issues and gender roles, of leaving our own legacy, and of recovery from the injuries we've done to ourselves and those that have been done to us. But at it's heart, In Sunlight and In Shadow is a story about love (in all it's forms). It manages, puzzlingly, to be both. And that's what makes it one of my favorite reads of the year.

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