How to Find Your Way in the Dark
reviewed by Carolyn Scott
We first met Sheldon Horowitz in Miller’s wonderful debut novel Norwegian by Night, when at the age of eighty two visiting his daughter in Norway, he gets caught up with a Balkan gang after rescuing a young boy whose mother they had just assassinated.
Going on the run with him, Sheldon’s quirky inventiveness and life experience keeps the boy safe as they evade both the gang, the Norwegian police (and in Sheldon’s mind, the Koreans). Now, in his new book, Miller has taken us back to Sheldon’s childhood in Massachusetts and Connecticut and the events that shaped him into the man we met seventy years later.
Right from the start it’s clear that Sheldon is not an ordinary boy. A deep thinker and questioner with a lively mind, he prefers books over sports and games and is best friends with Lenny, the only other Jewish kid in town. A year after Sheldon’s mother died tragically in a cinema fire with his Aunt Lucy, his father Joseph is killed when they are run off the road. Now an orphan and sent to live with his widowed Uncle Nate and teenage cousins Abe and Mirabelle, he imagines ways to find and kill the man who caused his father’s death. Sheldon keeps in touch with Lenny by writing him letters, telling him of exploits with his cousins and later the pair will reunite to spend a memorable summer in the Catskills working as bellhops while Lenny tries his hand at stand-up comedy.
As Sheldon is coming of age in the late 1930s, the world is once again at war, and anti-Semitic feeling is high as America halts Jewish immigration and prevaricates about entering the war. Sheldon’s cousin Abe decides he can’t wait while America ignores what is happening in Europe and joins the Canadian air force, finding a role in protecting ships taking vital supplies to Britain.
It’s Miller’s wonderful wit and insight into human relationships in addition to his own quirky way of thinking that brings his characters so colourfully to life. Sheldon is unforgettable, even as a boy. He is a problem solver, using his big imagination to plot ways of bringing retribution to those who deserve it and finds himself up against jewel thieves, mafia-like gangsters and bagmen. Lenny is another great character whose conversations with Sheldon add much humour to the novel along with his attempts to become a stand-up comic.
Those who have met Sheldon before as an elderly man in Norwegian by Night, will enjoy acquainting themselves with his younger self and the events that helped to shape the man, while those who are meeting Sheldon for the first time are in for a treat.
With thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Netgalley for a copy to read. Publication expected July 27, 2021.