How to Find Your Way in the Dark

  • Review
By – July 26, 2021

How To Find Your Way in the Dark is a pre­quel to Nor­we­gian by Night, Derek Miller’s 2013 nov­el, which won awards in Crime and First Nov­el cat­e­gories. In Nor­we­gian by Night, Shel­don Horowitz, the eighty-two-year-old hero, is dying as the book ends. In How To Find Your Way in the Dark, Shel­don Horowitz is twelve years old as the book begins, and he exhibits many of the same traits as his senior self. Like the lit­tle boy that Shel­don res­cues in Nor­we­gian by Night, the book begins with Shel­don mourn­ing his moth­er, who died an unnat­ur­al death. Like his senior self, Shel­don doesn’t allow his strong moral con­science to pre­vent him from tak­ing ille­gal mea­sures to achieve his goals. And, like his senior self, the teenage Shel­don can make split-sec­ond deci­sions in the face of danger.

Derek Miller is a deft plot­ter who jug­gles char­ac­ters and set­tings with the same dar­ing spir­it as his hero, with just a few wild improb­a­bil­i­ties and loose ends here and there. The sto­ry most­ly takes place dur­ing the 1940s. The young, orphaned Shel­don falls under the influ­ence of his cousin Abe, who is obsessed with anti­semitism and the Nazi men­ace that Amer­i­ca is ignor­ing. Spend­ing the sum­mer of 1941 as a bell­hop at Grossinger’s, Shel­don works out a com­pli­cat­ed scheme of revenge on his father’s killer while his best friend, Lenny Bern­stein — not the famous one — deliv­ers crowd-pleas­ing, comedic mono­logues at var­i­ous resorts but gets fired because his rou­tines are too top­i­cal­ly Jew­ish. The threat of impend­ing war looms in the background.

Derek Miller is skilled at draw­ing per­son­al­i­ties and using minor play­ers to enliv­en his craft. He gives his sec­ondary char­ac­ters enough col­or to make the read­er notice them for them­selves, not just as play­ers in Sheldon’s dra­ma. The lead-up to World War II per­me­ates the action almost to the end of the book, when the war ends and Sheldon’s future is set up to play out in Nor­we­gian by Night. Read­ers learn about Canada’s ear­ly efforts to defend Eng­land, includ­ing details about air­craft bombers, as well as tech­ni­cal aspects of sev­er­al types of guns, and the his­to­ry of the Colt fac­to­ry in Hart­ford, Con­necti­cut. This kind of writ­ing defies gen­der norms because the char­ac­ters are men who love their toys but who can also express their emo­tions. It’s a wide-rang­ing sto­ry with some minor plot points left hang­ing, but How To Find Your Way in the Dark reads like a winner.

Beth Dwoskin is a retired librar­i­an with exper­tise in Yid­dish lit­er­a­ture and Jew­ish folk music.

Discussion Questions