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The Boston Globe

Arts

Book Review

‘In Sunlight and in Shadow’ by Mark Helprin

The next time you find yourself in conversation with the kind of fussbudget reader who laments the state of contemporary literature, bemoaning that “they don’t write them like they used to,” here’s a suggestion: Pull a copy of Mark Helprin’s “In Sunlight and In Shadow” from your bag, gently slide it over (don’t wing it, unless you want to face the potential repercussions of a personal-injury lawsuit from this hulking tome), and suggest riffling its pages.

“In Sunlight” comes bearing all the virtues of the old-fashioned epic: sweeping story, unabashed romanticism, and an undisguised interest in morality. In 1947 New York, a returned veteran named Harry Copeland spots the most beautiful woman he has ever seen aboard the Staten Island ferry. Catherine Thomas Hale is already engaged to a wealthy WASP entrepreneur named Victor — “so stolid and gray,” Harry later observes of him, “that he could easily have been mistaken for a post office” — but the intensity of the connection between her and this mysterious stranger overcomes any such surface obstacles.

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