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Editor’s Choice: Lawrence Block’s anthology inspired by Edward Hopper

"In Sunlight Or In Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper," edited by Lawrence Block, Pegasus, 277 pages, $25.95.

The Mystery Writers of America have a nice Renaissance Craftsman-like way of recognizing the worthiest among their fellow craftsmen. They call them “Grandmasters.”

Lawrence Block, who grew up on the corner of Starin and Parkside avenues in North Buffalo, first entered the writer’s trade as a teen living there, has been a recognized “grandmaster” of the crime writer’s trade since the ’90s. He also has been something else less praised: He has been a bang-up anthologist.

Here, by all odds, is an anthology of conspicuous brilliance, even by Block standards: an anthology of stories inspired by the magnificent paintings of Edward Hopper, whose subdued, haunting portraits of loneliness define, for all time, the “quiet desperation” Thoreau saw at the root of American experience.

Block is nothing if not disingenuous about the basic idea of this well-produced anthology: “You’d think I’d be able to tell you the source of this particular idea. But I can’t. It was just there, premise and title and all and without overthinking it, I put together an A-list of writers I’d most like to invite to the party. ... The attraction was Edward Hopper. They all loved and responded to his work, and in a very writerly way. A strong positive response to Hopper’s paintings is by no means uncommon in America and throughout the world. But I’ve come to believe it is singularly strong among writers. ... Hopper’s work resonates profoundly among those who care deeply for stories.”

So Joyce Carol Oates tells us what the naked woman is awaiting in Hopper’s “Eleven A.M.,” Megan Abbott about the stripper in “Girlie Show.” Joe R. Lonsdale introduces us to the projectionist of “New York Movie” and not just the usherette. Stephen King hears the anguish in “Room in New York” as a man reads his newspaper and a woman distractedly stretches a single digit to a piano keyboard.

Other contributors include Michael Connelly, Jeffrey Deaver, Gail Levin and, of course Block himself. The paintings that inspired each story are reproduced nicely. A grand, masterly anthology.

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