In Sunlight or In Shadow

by Various Authors, Lawrence Block (Ed.)

“He came from Albany, and people who come from there get what they deserve.”
-Stephen King, “The Music Room”

We’ve all seen Edward Hopper’s art, whether we’ve sought it out or not. There’s a subtly sad, understated despair in much of it. Sometimes it’s the perspective, evoking loneliness from an outsider looking in; sometimes it’s the subjects themselves, often holding their heads down, pondering their situations or the world itself.

No matter how you read into them, they’re striking. The authors gathered here are fans of the artist, some foregoing the massive salaries they command in order to be part of this anthology. Depending on how Cemetery Dance ultimately handles the presentation of the art at the beginning of each story, this could end up being among the greatest anthologies in your collection. (Kindle readers, you’re urged to look up color versions of each piece of artwork online prior to beginning the story, and keep them handy for reference.)

The book consists of 17 stories, and before anyone asks, yes, Stephen King’s story is excellent, and one of the nastiest and darkest present here. But it’s not the best. Robert Olen Butler, Lee Child, Michael Connely, Justin Scott, Jill D. Block and Joe R. Lansdale provide amazing work as well. But their’s aren’t the best, either.

Check out the full story list for a short breakdown of each, but the two greatest stories here, and whoppers they are, are provided by Nicholas Christopher and editor Lawrence Block. They’re sad, and they’ll break your heart. But there’s something else, something in them that says any dissolution currently being dealt with isn’t the end, and that the world turns sometimes for the better. Just like the underlying hope that can found a few layers deep in Hopper’s quietly bleak paintings.

“Rooms by the Sea” – Nicholas Christopher – A very wealthy family lives in a secluded mansion that opens onto the sea with a unique personal chef poached from a high-end restaurant. The house seems to mysteriously develop additional rooms each year, and as people grow old and pass away secrets are uncovered which reveal a sad history.

This one’s incredible, and you don’t want to miss it no matter how or where you’re able to get ahold of it. It’s not just filled with possibility and wonder, but vibrant, vivid life is present on every page of a story that unfolds like both mystery and biography.

“Autumn at the Automat” – Lawrence Block – An elderly, widowed lady is dining frugally at a local automat, counting her nickels and overdue for her rent. When finished and leaving, she’s accused by the manager of stealing the restaurant’s cutlery.

Despite the top-notch story from Mr. Christopher, Mr. Block’s is the best in the book. It’s not only devastating, offering a rare glimpse into many of our futures, it’s just a real, human story–transporting, transplanting us. This final story is the crown jewel in an over-achieving anthology.

full story list

There’s only one baffling miss in the entire book, but you can forgive it by just moving on to the next story. Take your time looking at the artwork, and glance back at it a few times during the read if you’re so inclined. Then look at it once more when you’ve finished the story. Considering the disquieting art and the stories inspired by these paintings, this book offers an experience not to be missed.

“We get used to things, Liebchen. A man can get used to hanging.”
-Lawrence Block, “Autumn at the Automat”

4+ stars

in-sunlight-or-in-shadow

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