MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
You could fill a library with all of the books that serve as love letters to New York City and we have another to add to the shelf. It's Mark Helprin's new near-epic novel, "In Sunlight and in Shadow."
Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, says it makes life in the city just after the Second World War seem marvelous
ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: To be in New York on a beautiful day is to feel razor-close to being in love, Helprin writes. This is a grand old-fashioned love story he gives us, slathered in lush language which begins with a Hollywoodish meet-cute on the Staten Island ferry. It's spring, 1946. Thirty-two-year-old former commando turned businessman, a Manhattanite named Harry Copeland, who's recently returned from the European theater, boards the ferry, locks eyes with another passenger, a disturbingly attractive young woman named Catherine, and everything changes for both of them.
Off they go on a journey together, bound by sudden passion, growing admiration, affection, even adoration; the whole business of a major, major love affair that leads to a marriage and beyond. Of course, first, Harry first has to get her skunky fiancee out of the way. Next, Harry and Catherine have to deal with the overt anti-Semitism of upper-echelon New York society, a struggle that turns with a wickedly ironic twist as the story unfolds.
And Harry declares war on a Mafia boss who wants to bleed his family's high-end leather goods business dry, while Catherine pursues what she hopes will become a brilliant career in the Broadway musical.
As we learn from long chapters that take us in the middle of the book back to the war against the Nazis, Harry knows how to fight. And as we hear from the chapters on Catherine's reach for success as a stage performer, she knows how to sing.
Helprin does both things extraordinarily well, writing in a pitch close to a Broadway musical score and winning our close sympathy for his characters by means of his full-throated rendering of life at war and life at peace. I was desperately disappointed, though, by the end of this grandly charming and deeply affecting novel, not because of how it ended but because it ended at all.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BLOCK: That's Alan Cheuse reviewing Mark Helprin's novel "In Sunlight and in Shadow," which comes out next week. You can get an advanced peek. There's an excerpt at our website, NPR.org.