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Matrimony: A Novelby Joshua Henkin
Synopses & Reviews
In Matrimony, a man and woman meet in college, fall in love, and spend the next fifteen years finding their way through the ups and downs of marriage. It’s the second novel from author Joshua Henkin, and Matrimony reflects the maturing talent of a writer who auspiciously emerged on the literary scene nine years ago with the critically praised first novel Swimming Across the Hudson.
Longer in scope, more ambitious with its characters, and grounded with realism and wry humor, Matrimony introduces us to Julian Wainwright and Mia Mendelsohn, two intensely likeable yet wonderfully flawed characters, who meet their freshman year at Graymont College, a liberal arts school in western Massachusetts. Julian, an aspiring writer, has arrived at college from New York to study with his literary hero. Mia has come from Montreal searching for something new and unknown. When they meet, folding laundry, they fall deeply and happily into first love.
But real life soon intrudes, and a family crisis arises at the end of their senior year that will cement their relationship more seriously and quickly than they could have imagined. Together they make their way through the next fifteen years — through career changes, family conflicts and losses, betrayals and successes. From the university towns of Ann Arbor, Berkeley, and Iowa City, to the brownstones of Greenwich Village, the novel moves back and forth between Julian and Mia’s perspectives as Henkin explores the choices and sacrifices we make at different stages in our lives, our changes in ambition and desire, and how we come to lead the lives we live.
"In 1987, Manhattan-reared hothouse flower Julian Wainwright matriculates at the alternative Graymont College for the express purposes of attending Professor Stephen Chesterfield's exclusive fiction writing workshop. As Chesterfield dryly infuses his writing wisdom, Julian befriends the cocky, aloof, lesser-born Carter Heinz when they are the only two to whom Chesterfield gives the nod. Carter soon meets Pilar in the cafeteria; Julian meets Mia in the laundry room. Carter's simmering class resentment of Julian surfaces. Senior year finds the two couples living next door to one another and plotting their futures. Henkin (Swimming Across the Hudson) subsequently follows the lovers for the next 15 years through countless college towns, family dramas, failed literary projects and the dot-com boom. Many scenes are too long, and never get below the surface of the cast, particularly wannabe-litterateur Julian. But for a book called Matrimony, Henkin offers surprisingly little about Julian and Mia's marriage, so when big confrontations do arrive, they quickly slide into melodrama. By then, lines like 'But I don't want to get my M.F.A. Can't you understand that? I've already been in enough writing workshops' will have cleared the classroom." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Writers are incorrigible autobiographers. That's why there are so many novels about writers. Today, those novels are likely to read like CVs, cataloging stints at conferences and writing colonies, adjunct teaching gigs, the requisite M.F.A. degree and years of despairing work on a project that doesn't meet the writer's standards. Such is the average writerly life. Yet there is a... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) spot on the shelf, perhaps beside 'Wonder Boys,' Michael Chabon's story of a middle-aged writer in the doldrums, for an observant tale about the subculture of young dreamers that produces much squandered effort and the occasional genuine star. Joshua Henkin's second novel, 'Matrimony,' begins as though it might fill that space. In 1986, Julian Wainwright, a silver spoon in his mouth, arrives from Manhattan to attend a small Massachusetts college. The draw is the writing workshop of Professor Chesterfield, a man frustrated with his own dormant promise and his students' stories about space aliens and college hookups. He issues commandments, such as 'Thou Shalt Populate Your Stories With Homo Sapiens.' Julian falls in with fellow wannabe Carter Heinz, a young man with a working-class chip on his shoulder, and he meets Mia Mendelsohn, a beautiful Canadian with whom he begins an exuberant affair. Then Mia and Julian get married. She pursues a graduate degree in psychology; he begins work on a novel and attends the Iowa Writers' Workshop. But the comic pathos and energy of 'Matrimony''s young college years recede. In Iowa, there's no Professor Chesterfield to keep things interesting. Instead, we learn little about this hothouse of hope and failure except that most of the students are viciously competitive and blind to real talent. As Julian labors on in not-quite obscurity, his and Mia's marriage takes center stage. In a literary landscape of neurotic singletons, we could use a novel about marriage undertaken by two highly intelligent and educated people of tender age. Henkin's quiet debut novel published 10 years ago, 'Swimming Across the Hudson,' showed that he knew how to ask important questions about family and identity. But 'Matrimony' must succeed on its characters, and Mia and Julian are unevenly matched. Mia's struggles with family tragedy and her own weaknesses provide the book's emotional core, while Julian engages in numerous Significant Conversations that offer a running explanation of a character never fully realized on the page. Professor Chesterfield forbade his students to use pedestrian, 'pass-the-salt' dialogue. That doesn't mean the spice of life must be left out. Favorite restaurants and routines are fine, but 'Matrimony' fails to record the quotidian pains and pleasures particular to two people, their familiarity with each other's imperfections, the intimacy that make a marriage, or the way such relationships mature. When Julian and Mia's marriage is sucker-punched by a betrayal, the sophomoric nature of the infidelity and its aftermath leaches the drama from this pivotal event. 'Matrimony' is an adult novel inhabited by people with whom you want to plead, 'Grow up!' Sarah L. Courteau is literary editor of the Wilson Quarterly." Reviewed by Sarah L. Courteau, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"In this heartfelt homage to the risks and rewards of marriage, Henkin never artificially amps up his material, instead allowing the quiet accumulation of his characters' shared experiences to create for his readers a world they will recognize and relate to." Booklist
"In the tradition of John Cheever and Richard Yates, Joshua Henkin has written a devastating novel about love, hope, delusion, and the intricate ways in which time's passage raises us up even as it grinds us down. It's a beautiful book. Here's to its brilliant future." Michael Cunningham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hours
"[A]n appealing story of romance, wedlock, personal and spousal conflict and growth....Ragged, but it gets to you and stays with you. Expect even better things from Henkin in the future." Kirkus Reviews
"While not earthshakingly original, this novel takes a good look at love, friendship, and marriage from the Reagan years to the new century. Recommended." Library Journal
"In this classically composed second novel of a couple who meet and fall in love at their liberal arts college in the Berkshires, Henkin...sensitively examines the 15 years of love and marriage that follow." The Philadelphia Inquirer
"With vibrant intelligence, Matrimony looks at the mystery of how a couple stays together and the ways even the most privileged among us are subject to the disasters wrought by our incalculable natures. A luminous tale, eloquently told." Joan Silber, author of Lucky Us
"[Henkin] is able to explore in depth a surprisingly wide array of issues universal to the experiences of marriage. . . . It is a testament to Matrimony's redemptive power that at the end of the novel, despite all of the difficulties the characters face, the reader might still want to get, or stay, married." Adam Goldwyn, Small Spiral Notebook
"The rich rewards of dailiness, the complexity of ordinary human connection, the unexpected ways that love endures, and the frequently hilarious ironies of modern life are on full display in this warm-hearted, clear-eyed novel. Henkin's portrait of a marriage is a portrait of us all." Stacey D'Erasmo
"Joshua Henkin's Matrimony is a deliciously old-fashioned novel. With no gimmicks, no tricks, Henkin gives us a cast of complex, flawed, utterly real characters, exploring their inner lives with an astonishing sureness of touch. Beautifully written and deeply felt, Matrimony is a miracle of intelligence and heart." Brian Morton
"Joshua Henkin has written a powerfully moving book about so many of the big things: romantic love, abiding friendship, commitment, betrayal, loss, hope, regret. Matrimony is a novel at once sprawling and economical — an elegant excavation of the human spirit." Dani Shapiro
"Elicits a passtionate investment in the fate of its characters — truly an up-all-night-read." Adriana Leshko, The Washington Post
"Mr. Henkin writes with a winningly anachronistic absence of showiness.... This is just a lifelike, likable book populated by three-dimensional characters who make themselves very much at home on the page." Janet Maslin, New York Times
"[A] charming novel ... Henkin keeps you reading with original characters, witty dialogue and a view that marriage, for all its flaws, is worth the trouble." Tom Fields-Meyer, People
"Henkin movingly explores marriage, friendship, and the many ways we love and hurt each other.... Poignant.... Readers who loved Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety will find echoes [in Matrimony.]" Cindy Crosby, Bookreporter
About the Author
Joshua Henkin is the author of the novel Swimming Across the Hudson (1997), which was named a Los Angeles Times Notable Book of the Year. His short stories have been published in Ploughshares, The Southern Review, The Yale Review, Triquarterly, DoubleTake, Glimmer Train, The North American Review, and elsewhere. His fiction has been performed at Symphony Space and broadcast on NPR's "Selected Shorts" as well as cited for distinction in Best American Short Stories. He is the recipient of the Playboy Fiction Prize, the James Fellowship for the Novel, the Hopwood Award, the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award, and a grant from the Michigan Council of the Arts. His essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Nation, Mother Jones, and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, and teaches in the creative writing programs at Sarah Lawrence College and Brooklyn College.
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