I sent Helprin some of my posts last week and he sent me a You-Tube video of his interview at a Chicago event last fall (11-28-12)about his new book; “In Sunlight and In Shadow,” a novel set in New York right after the war.
The two lead characters bear more than a passing resemblance to Mark’s parents and the book is rightly seen as a tribute to that generation, now as it is about to pass from the scene. I met Mark more than twenty years ago through politics.
(We were introduced by Armand Eisen, a classmate at Pembroke Country Day School).
Helprin is responding to the question:”What is your new book about?” asked of him by an interviewer at the Chicago Humanities Festival:
“It’s about New York in the ’40s,which was a world unto itself. It’s about the rise of its immigrants and the adaptation and predominant generosity of its Episcopalian aristocracy in welcoming them. It’s about the surf-like sound of the streets, the Golden Age of the American musical theatre, the great houses and families of Sutton Place and the Hamptons and the lofts and workshops of the garment district.
“It’s about financiers in offices almost floating like clouds above Wall Street and the descendants of black freedmen and Puerto Rican cane-cutters in the leather trades. It’s about the Hudson Highlands, a destroyer moving though the smooth swells in the Bay of Biscay, the 82nd Airborne shot to pieces by our own guns during the invasion of Sicily.
“It’s about the ineffable quality, power, and charm of a woman’s voice. It’s about a soldier’s infatuation at a Kensington dinner party with a woman he will kiss on the street and never see again.
“It’s about those lost in battle, the continuing devotion of soldiers who were with them and the love of the widows and parents who were not.
“It’s about love unrequited, love burnished to a dull shine by decades of marriage and young love-inimitably fresh and potentially everlasting. It’s about parachuting into and fighting through France with the Normandy invasion; about snow, death and visions upon the Siegfried Line. It’s about sailing in the Atlantic off Mt. Desert Island, San Francisco, the sun saturated Sacramento Valley after the war, the steel mills of Gary, Indiana.
“It’s about the daring of a returning soldier who refuses to be intimidated by the Mafia and chooses instead to fight, the wrenching memories of a nurse in the South Pacific, the beauties of color and song, the price of honor, a marriage made in heaven, and the courage and perseverance of a young actress.
“It’s about the seasons, the blooming of the trees in spring, storms at sea, and the golden light that settles upon the harbor when the sun shines beneath a low ceiling of dark cloud. It’s about the wonderful bustle of restaurants and (Carson McCuller’s phrase), ‘the wash of sound coming from the bar.’ It’s even about clothing and how it’s linked to emotion when it becomes part of the people we love.
“It’s about sex in its purest, strongest, semi-hallucinatory, transcendental manifestations. It’s about love, loyalty, constancy, beauty, and justice. And then it’s just a love story about Harry and, most of all, about Catherine, whose radiance as a child, girl, and woman never dimmed. And all this and more springs from the sight of a beautiful young woman dressed in white on the Staten Island Ferry at the beginning of summer 1946. These are some of the things it’s about.”