Tag Archives: Joshua Henkin

THE WORLD WITHOUT YOU by Joshua Henkin


Joshua Henkin’s The World Without You is about the Frankel family, who have gathered at their summer house in the Berkshires for the unveiling of the grave of the youngest child – Leo – who was killed in Iraq while there on assignment as a journalist. The family, made up of three older sisters – Lily, Clarissa and Noelle – and parents Marilyn and David, is grieving, each member in his or her own way. Marilyn and David’s marriage is coming apart, as David turns to hobbies and exercise to dull his pain while Marilyn writes op-eds opposing the war and President Bush. Lily, Clarissa and Noelle miss Leo in their own ways, but they aren’t close with each other, and tensions between the three arise while they are together for the weekend.

If you enjoy books about family relationships and the tensions and passions they evoke, then The World Without You may be for you. Henkin masterfully depicts the many simultaneous reactions going on over the course of the long Fourth of July weekend, often over the dinner table. There are layers upon layers here, with flashbacks and childhood memories crowding the present day and changing each person’s perspective on the weekend’s activities as well as the other people in the house. Henkin is analytical and precise – I can see him mapping out each relationship on a huge whiteboard and determining how each one differs from the others and what makes each unique.

At the same time, though, I finished the book somewhat dissatisfied. I found these characters clinically cold and almost totally devoid of empathy. No one had any sensitivity or sympathy for the other members of their family. Their reactions to things like the disappearance of one daughter’s husband or Marilyn and David’s pending separation were totally underwhelming. This coldness permeated the whole book. I wanted to shake the characters, say to them, “How can you just sit there and not *react* to what you are hearing?” They were all so self-absorbed that they couldn’t put themselves in someone else’s shoes to understand what the other person was experiencing.

Also, be prepared: there are fireworks on the cover of the book, but very few between the covers.

[I just read my review of Henkin’s Matrimony, which I read in 2008, and I found that I had written almost the exact same thing about Matrimony:

Unfortunately, Matrimony left me a bit unsatisfied. These vignettes are beautiful, but ultimately, the book felt almost skeletal to me. There were long gaps between plot points which were left unexamined. There were discussions between the characters – major discussions, such as confrontations over infidelity or explorations of sibling relationships – that seemed devoid of emotion, prematurely cut off. I kept wanting these characters to feel more, to express more, to explore more.

I am clearly predictable in my reviews – wow.]

I’m glad I read The World Without You, and enjoyed the fact that it was set in 2005, during those politically charged years of the Bush administration and the Iraq war.  I just wanted more emotion and generosity among the characters.

Thank you to Joshua Henkin for the review copy of The World Without You.

THE OUTCAST by Sadie Jones and Josh Henkin on Book Clubs

Two quick notes tonight:

First, for those of you who are participating in the Matrimony online book club (which will take place on Thursday May 22) – Joshua Henkin wrote a really interesting guest post over at Books on the Brain about book clubs. I enjoyed hearing an author’s perspective on the modern book club and the role it plays today in book sales and word of mouth.  I commend Josh on his tireless efforts to reach new readers and his willingness to open his mind to reader comments and reactions, even if it means driving all over the country to attend book clubs in person. I’m looking forward to the EDIWTB book club for Matrimony in three weeks.

Even if you are not participating in the book club, Josh’s post is a good read.

Second, thanks to EDIWTB reader Susan for recommending The Outcast by Sadie Jones. Susan says, "This is a great debut novel. The characters are well drawn, the story is compelling, and I can’t do it justice here."  Amazon says:

SJoneset in post WWII suburban London, this superb debut novel charts the downward spiral and tortured redemption of a young man shattered by loss. The war is over, and Lewis Aldridge is getting used to having his father, Gilbert, back in the house. Things hum along splendidly until Lewis’s mother drowns, casting the 10-year-old into deep isolation. Lewis is ignored by grief-stricken Gilbert, who remarries a year after the death, and Lewis’s sadness festers during his adolescence until he boils over and torches a church. After serving two years in prison, Lewis returns home seeking redemption and forgiveness, only to find himself ostracized. The town’s most prominent family, the Carmichaels, poses particular danger: terrifying, abusive patriarch Dicky (who is also Gilbert’s boss) wants to humiliate him; beautiful 21-year-old Tamsin possesses an insidious coquettishness; and patient, innocent Kit—not quite 16 years old—confounds him with her youthful affection. Mutual distrust between Lewis and the locals grows, but Kit may be able to save Lewis. Jones’s prose is fluid, and Lewis’s suffering comes across as achingly real.

From The Quickie Book Review Blog:

\Whoa. It’s not too often that I just get swept away. I wish it was. I wish every book delivered on its promise. This one was bursting with potential from the prologue – and even knowing what was coming, I still spilled tears, I still tasted bitterness, I still felt displeasure. I can’t believe this is her first novel! Please, sign me up for the second. Miss Jones, I hope you are busy writing! I think the beauty of this novel is that yes, something rather extraordinary happens to Lewis, but that’s not the story. The story is in the rather mundane ways he is affected or not affected by it. It downplays the drama. That’s such a sophisticated way to write it just blew me away. It’s subtle. And brilliant. It leaves you singing for redemption.

Thank you Susan for bringing this book to my attention!

Next Online Book Club Selection: MATRIMONY by Joshua Henkin

HenkinI’m happy to announce the next EDIWTB online book club selection. This is a first for the blog – knowing that I had gotten a review copy of his book late last year, the author suggested to me that his book be our next book club selection. And so… the next book is Matrimony, by Joshua Henkin. Here is my initial blog post about it, from last December.

I am very excited to read Matrimonyit has been on my TBR list for a while.  My only hesitation is that the themes in the book seem to be somewhat similar to those in The Post-Birthday World – marriage, relationships, and "the path not taken." I apologize for the similarity and promise that the next selection will be completely different – maybe a book about the Civil War? (Ok, I make no such promise).

Matrimony‘s publisher, Pantheon, has generously agreed to send a number of copies of the book to EDIWTB readers who would like to participate in the online discussion. Because the quantity is limited, I ask that you request a copy only if you think you will actually read the book at some point and maybe post a comment or two whenever you do.

If you’d like to participate, please send your mailing address to me at gweiswasser@gmail.com. Depending on when the books go out, the online book club itself will take place around the middle of May.

Thank you to Josh and to Pantheon for helping facilitate another EDIWTB book club!

MATRIMONY by Joshua Henkin

First. thank you to everyone who participated in the first EDIWTB online book club. There are 17 comments on Monday’s post about The Middle Place, which I think is a great success. Stay tuned for the Q & A session with Kelly Corrigan, which I will post once I get the answers from her. And hopefully there will be another online book club in early 2008.

A review copy of Matrimony, by Joshua Henkin, came in the mail yesterday (I requested it). I am excited to read it. It is the story of a couple that meets in college and ends up getting married early, and hastily. The novel tracks them over the next 20 years and is in part about the paths not taken. From a January magazine review:

MatrimonyJoshua Henkin’s Matrimony is a brilliant, beautifully written novel that tracks a couple from the time they meet in college until 20 years later as they approach middle-age.  There’s some sex, and some betrayal too, but Matrimony is far subtler than that, and what we’re left with at the end of this wonderful novel is a full sense of what it means to grow older with someone.

Through this tender excavation of love, disappointment, and ultimately hope, Henkin… gives us characters so fully formed we know them as well as we know our own friends and family.

Matrimony also does something else. It chronicles a time (the novel moves from the Reagan era, with the anti-apartheid shanties on college campuses, to Clinton, and finally to Bush; the characters watch O.J. Simpson as he leads the police on his slow car chase, and years later they are witness to the horrors of 9/11).

Matrimony also gives a full sense of the challenges a couple faces as they move from their 20s to their 30s and beyond. Death, divorce, ambition (the novel is particularly good at portraying the writing life), the balancing of two-career families, tensions over money, the decision whether to have a child: it’s all on display in Henkin’s terrific novel.

Sounds good to me! Here’s an interview with Joshua Henkin on the MoreThan a Minivan Mom blog. I will go back and read the interview after I read the book, which is approximately #34 in the queue of books to be read.

Has anyone read Matrimony yet?