Review: “In Sunlight and in Shadow”

I purchased this “In Sunlight and in Shadow” by Mark Helprin from the discount shelf at Gibson’s Bookstore.

About 45 pages in, I understood why it was discounted.

The basic premise is that an American Jewish soldier returns to New York after the resolution of World War II. While he’s been in Europe, he’s father has died and the son is now running the leather goods factory, which is co-owned by an African American man.

He’s not super focused on the job, ends up spotting an attractive woman, who’s rich and an aspiring actress on a ferry. It’s love at first sight. Then there are pages and pages about this love affair, how he successfully breaks up her engagement to a rich dude she’s basically been promised to for years. Then, pages and pages and pages of just how much they love each other. It that was what the story was actually about, it’s be a great book, but it’s really just lonnnnnnnnnng descriptions of things absolutely irrelevant to the plot.

Which is (spoilers coming): Like most business in New York in 1950s, his leather company pays protection money to the mob. After his father’s death, payments are increased, first doubling, then ten-fold. Out of all the description, the details here are left out, but since no other area businesses are seeing the increases, it’s presumed because the leather company is owned by a Jewish man and a black man.

Well, the protection payments are killing the already struggling business and the man wants to be able to provide for his wife (even though she has enough money that he could just sell the company.)

So, he enlists the help from a few of his surviving war buddies to murder the leader of the mob who’s milking him dry. However, this doesn’t happen until like the final chapters of the books. It takes sooooooooooooo long for any actually conflict of the plot to happen.

They carefully construct a plot to kill the mob boss in his car as his drives to his isolated compound. The plan goes off with only one hitch.

The leading man gets shot. He does not survive.

He never gets to know that his wife is pregnant and that she landed a dream role on Broadway.

So much for that ridiculous love story the author spent 85 percent of the book describing. . . . I think you’re supposed to feel bad at the end, but I was just relieved I’d finished the book.

Lesson learned: If an independent bookstore is willing to discount a book, it’s probably not worth buying.


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