MATRIMONY by Joshua Henkin

Today is the third EDIWTB online book club. This time, the book is Matrimony, by Joshua Henkin. If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please leave a comment below. Also, Joshua Henkin will be answering questions from EDIWTB readers in a few weeks. So feel free to include a question for him in your comment, or email it to me at [email protected].

Henkin Matrimony is the story of Julian and Mia, a couple who meet as college students at a small New England liberal arts school and fall in love. They marry while they are still in college – a rushed wedding because Mia's mother has been diagnosed with terminal cancer – and the book basically tracks the next twenty years of their lives. Their relationship experiences a few ups and one serious down, which Henkin faithfully chronicles with an assured and gentle touch. Matrimony also explores Julian's relationship with his best friend from college, Carter Heinz, which is sorely tested about ten years after graduation; the breakup of Julian's parents; Mia's grief over her mother's death; and Julian's writing career.

I'll start with the good. There are some lovely vignettes throughout the book, scenes which Henkin paints with careful detail that beautifully convey what his characters are experiencing. In this way, the book was almost poetic. Henkin is adept at using small gestures and few words to turn an otherwise small scene into a memorable moment for the reader. There are several of these moments that stick out in my mind when I think back on the book: Justin and Mia's dinner party; Carter and Justin's game of basketball after Carter's law school graduation; Justin's visit to his father's office late in the novel.

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. It didn't seem realistic to me that a couple would reunite after a 18-month separation, for example, with such a non-examination of why they wanted to be back together, without a resolution of their issues.

Perhaps I am just one of those readers who enjoys a lot of plot detail, expression of emotion, and examination of motive. Henkin's style is clearly more spare, more suggestive, less literal.

There are also some areas that I feel Henkin left underdeveloped, such as the role of religion in Justin and Mia's lives and marriage (the fact that they are in a mixed faith marriage hardly even comes up), Mia's imperfect relationship with her sister, or why Carter and his longterm partner split up. Maybe Henkin's message is that life is messy and doesn't necessarily get resolved. We get by, from point to point, and do the best we can with the relationships we have and the family we're born into. Perhaps his lack of deep emotional analysis and, ultimately, of conflict resolution, is his own homage to matrimony – an imperfect yet enduring institution that, out of necessity, is impervious to methodical analysis and deconstruction.

I enjoyed Matrimony, I didn't love it. But I know there are readers out there who did. I'd love to hear from those of you who read the book – please add your voice below.