Tag Archives: novel

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?


Jin_2Ha Jin has a new book out, called A Free Life. (He’s the author of the award-winning Waiting, which I read for a book club many years ago).  This book is about a Chinese family – father, mother and young son – who emigrates to the U.S. to make a life here. The father – Nan – is not in love with his wife PingPing, but their dogged determination to life a successful life – the American Dream – keeps them together.

From The Boston Phoenix:

It’s a familiar story, but broken up into short chapters and narrated in Jin’s deadpan register, it takes on the jagged, mournful resonances of Jewish fiction of 50 years ago… Jin has made a calculated but effective decision to present their journey as a series of incremental changes made for practical reasons — and he’s able to maintain a certain narrative tension. You keep waiting for some catastrophe to come around the corner and sink them. A Free Life is not about American financial success, however, but about what gets lost when that’s pursued above all else. In Atlanta, Nan begins to write again, and his life of drudgery now seems like a false dream — the catastrophe that wasn’t waiting around the corner but has been sitting on top of him.

It is the simple, heartbreaking story of a family’s quest for solid ground — a story that will make you marvel at how much we are expected to infer from that familiar phrase “the American Dream.”

From Mostly Fiction:

Ha Jin, like his protagonist, is a poet and there are many parallels between his own life and that of Nan Wu. Despite the similarities, Ha Jin has said the book is not autobiographical—instead it is a portrait of a man that Jin can readily sympathize with.

There are a fair number of more telling passages in the book: Nan’s frustration at [his son’s] pursuit of a wayward American girl, and the Wus’ constant financial insecurity are well done. Particularly impressive is Nan’s brief visit back to China where he realizes the many contradictions in his immigrant life. When he struggles to somehow save a thousand dollars and give them to his parents, they wrongly assume he is loaded: “Everybody knows how easy it is to make money in America,” Nan’s mother tells him, “After you gave us the cash the day before yesterday, your dad said to me, ‘Damn, we’ve never had so much money in our whole life. See how easy it was for Nan to toss out a thousand dollars.’” His parents’ inability to see his immigrant struggles and desperation make for some beautiful scenes.

My recollection of Jin’s writing is that it can be understated almost to the point of being clinical. From what I’ve read in a few reviews of A Free Life, that may be the case with this book too. That wouldn’t be enough to keep me from reading it, though.