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Onyx reviews: In Sunlight or in Shadow edited by Lawrence
Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 10/16/2016
In his introduction to this anthology of original stories inspired by the
paintings of Edward Hopper, editor Lawrence Block says that Hopper's paintings
don't tell stories so much as they suggest them. They are moments captured in
time that invite the viewer to wonder what has just happened or is about to
With that thought in mind, he invited a number of authors to select a
favorite Hopper work and use it as the inspiration for a short story. He did not
specifically seek crime stories, although a fair number of the tales in this
collection could be thus categorized. In fact, Block cast a fairly wide and
diverse net in soliciting contributions. In addition to "the usual
suspects," crime writers like Lee Child, Michael Connelly and Jeffery
Deaver, Block also sought works from a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, a poet,
a professor of English, Hopper's biographer and cataloger, the editor's
daughter, and a late night talk
As a result, Block has produced an anthology that is as diverse as the
artist's works themselves. If they have anything in common, this derives from the fact that
most of Hopper's paintings showed bleak tableaus. They often feature a solitary
figure who does not appear happy, and even when there are multiple people in a painting they all seem to be isolated. Only rarely are they
interacting in any significant manner. Therefore, this isn't a particularly
cheery collection, but it is an excellent one.
Some of the authors mention Hopper and the inspirational painting directly. Michael Connelly, for example,
sends his series protagonist Harry Bosch to Chicago on a case that puts him in a
room with Hopper's most iconic work, Nighthawks, which Connelly has
mentioned in a number of his previous novels. In that sense, the content of the
painting isn't as much the inspiration as is the painting itself and its
reputation. Joyce Carol Oates contributes a story in which the concept of the
frozen moment in a painting is key: time does not appear to pass as characters
converge on a particular moment but never seem to get there.
Other authors use the scene in the painting as a launching pad for
the story—or for its culmination, as is the case with Megan Abbott's
opening story of a fraught marriage. In other cases, the scenario is only a
minor touch-point, one that establishes a mood or serves as a creative spark.
One of the more interesting tales for fans of Hopper is "The Preacher
Collects" by Gail Levin, a Hopper's biographer who uses fiction to address
a supposedly true story about Hopper's final years in a way that non-fiction
can't. Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler writes a creepy story involving
clowns that is quite appropriate given recent incidents reported in the media.
Novelist and poet Nicholas Christopher adds a bit of magic realism to the
collection with a story about a seaside house that seems to be getting bigger,
combined with a touch of maritime mythology.
Stephen King contemplates the tableau to reveal the fiendish scheme a couple
has devised to fend off the depression. Comedian and talk-show host Craig
Ferguson has penned a wry and contemplative story that involves discussions of
religion and atheism, fueled by medicinal marijuana use. Most but not all of the
stories are set in the first half of the 20th century, including a Cold War tale
from Deaver in which a Hopper painting is used as a piece of spycraft.
Other contributors to the anthology include Kris Nelscott (a pen name of
Kristine Kathryn Rusch), Joe R. Lansdale, Professor Warren Moore from Newberry
College, writer and artist Jonathan Santlofer (channeling Rear Window)
and Justin Scott, as well as Block himself and his daughter, Jill D. Block.
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