I am a fan of art. I’m also a fan of reading, so it was with great enthusiasm that I recently checked out the book “In Sunlight or In Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper” through our Bridges Library System. The book, by Lawrence Block, presents a series of seventeen short stories by various authors, inspired by the paintings of one of my favorite American artists, Edward Hopper.
From the author’s website: “A truly unprecedented literary achievement by author and editor Lawrence Block, a newly-commissioned anthology of seventeen superbly-crafted stories inspired by the paintings of Edward Hopper, including Jeffery Deaver, Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, Lee Child, and Robert Olen Butler, among many others.
““Edward Hopper is surely the greatest American narrative painter. His work bears special resonance for writers and readers, and yet his paintings never tell a story so much as they invite viewers to find for themselves the untold stories within.””
So says Lawrence Block, who has invited seventeen outstanding writers to join him in an unprecedented anthology of brand-new stories: In Sunlight or In Shadow. The results are remarkable and range across all genres, wedding literary excellence to storytelling savvy.
Contributors include Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Olen Butler, Michael Connelly, Megan Abbott, Craig Ferguson, Nicholas Christopher, Jill D. Block, Joe R. Lansdale, Justin Scott, Kris Nelscott, Warren Moore, Jonathan Santlofer, Jeffery Deaver, Lee Child, and Lawrence Block himself. Even Gail Levin, Hopper’s biographer and compiler of his catalogue raisonée, appears with her own first work of fiction, providing a true account of art theft on a grand scale and told in the voice of the country preacher who perpetrated the crime.
In a beautifully produced anthology as befits such a collection of acclaimed authors, each story is illustrated with a quality full-color reproduction of the painting that inspired it. Illustrated with 17 full color plates, one for each chapter.”
The stories present a nice mix of styles, from intriguing crime and spy tales to more character-based fiction. Many of them have a pulp-fiction, film-noir feel. Though I’m usually not a fan of this writing style, as a fan of Hoppers art, this came as no surprise to me. Hopper’s realistic paintings of American life usually have a dark, mysterious undertone. Knowing that, I was especially excited to read the stories based on my personal favorite Hopper paintings, Nighthawks (1942) and New York Movie (1939). It was quite fun to read these stories, as they were nothing at all like what I’ve imagined when gazing upon these glorious works. (I was hoping that there would also be a story for Chop Suey (1929) but alas, there was none. Guess this means I have to write my own. Lucky for me, after reading this book, I am more than inspired!)
From the book forward, by Lawrence Block: “Hopper was dismayed on those occasions when his work was dismissed as illustration. No less so than any Abstract Expressionist, his concern was with shape and color and light, not with meaning or narrative. Hopper was neither an illustrator nor a narrative painter. His paintings don’t tell stories. What they do is suggest—powerfully, irresistibly—that there are stories within them, waiting to be told. He shows us a moment in time, arrayed on a canvas; there’s clearly a past and a future, but it’s our task to find it for ourselves. Our contributors have done just that, and I’m gobsmacked by what they’ve provided.”
Gobsmacked is a great word, not one I use often, but in this case I wholeheartedly agree with it's use . I thoroughly enjoyed the stories written about my favorite paintings, but was equally taken with some of the other stories as well. Some of the Hopper paintings that, in the past, have never stoked the fire of my imagination provided the stories that I enjoyed the most. I had never given much thought to what Hopper painted in Office At Night (1940), nor South Truro Church (1930), but their interpreted stories, written by Warren Moore and Craig Ferguson, respectively, were some of my favorites.
The frontispiece of the book is the beautiful Cape Cod Morning (1950), a painting I’ve always thought of as calming, serene. I like to put myself in the place of the woman in the painting, soaking up the beautiful sunshine and ready to take on the day. Lucky for me (and for you, if you’re interested!), the author who was going to write for this piece found himself unable to deliver a story. Therefore, Lawrence Block gives us this: “And so, Gentle Reader, we’ve provided you with an eighteenth painting, and isn’t it a compelling one? Have a look at it, take it in. There’s a story in it, don’t you think? A story just waiting to be told . . . Feel free to tell it. But, um, don’t tell it to me. I’m outta here.”
I hope you give this book a try. It's nice to have a book of short stories on hand when your schedule doesn't offer big blocks of time to curl up and read. If, like me, however, you find yourself gobsmacked and can't put the book down, clear your schedule! The book is a quick read, but it left me wanting to write that Cape Cod Morning story, with Chop Suey to follow. On that note, as Lawrence Block so eloquently put it, I'm outta here!