Review Matrimony by Joshua Henkin
My one word to describe this book is GENTLE. Perhaps, that is exactly what I needed after the sad-to-me fact of not being able to finish the few books I attempted prior to this one. And YIPPEE! I read every word of this.
As the May/June selection for the Planet Books Book Club, I was so happy that this was available to me at my local library. Published in 2007 by Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc., this book is 291 pages, for those who like to know such things…
*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***
This starts off seeming to be a story of two guys who meet their freshman year of college. They are thrust into friendship when the professor of their creative writing class declares them to be the best that semester as he insults their work (and all of this students), and soon becomes a gentle weaving tale of life and marriage. Interspersed with light moments and mostly heavy ones – death, grief, betrayal; it never becomes a burden of a story – not at all.
Julian marries Mia, his girlfriend from that first year of college. His writing friend Carter is backdrop and counterpoint – we never quite get into Carter’s head and he doesn’t ‘grow up’ until the end. But he does play a pivotal role. Julian wants to be a novelist. Mia wonders if she can survive losing her mother. Does their marriage survive the career frustrations, the conflict of personal goals to the goal of staying together?
The story is woven and layered across the years. Consider a movie camera that changes perspectives showing highlights from far above (like the penthouse office and home that Julian moves through with his parents), and pans across the landscapes of their love and then slowly zooms into the minds and hearts of Julian and Mia – never at the same time. Henkin was a master of this technique of allowing the reader into pieces and parts, to get emotionally involved and yet held at a distance, much like the partner of whose ever head he was ‘inside’ at the time. First Julian, then Mia, then Julian and then back together again. I think that was the point: to have us rooting for each side, to realize how separate these two are as individuals and yet how well they complement each other in the end.
I liked the pace of this book. I was slightly frustrated that we didn’t get more of Carter, but then again – I really didn’t like him much. But I really liked Mia and I grew to like Julian as the story of their love unfolded. Many things were not shared and I also believe this to be part of the author’s intention – gaps in time, their wedding was barely touched on, only one religion’s influence explored, the changing question of when or IF to have a child and becoming parents, etc. Tis true, in ‘real life’, we never really get the ‘whole’ story, even when it’s ours!
I very much enjoyed reading the descriptions of the creative writing courses and studying the ‘art’ of writing. Technique and style, the challenges to writer’s block, competition between classmates and how vicious critiquing can be – I had no idea! (OK, this part isn’t ‘gentle’!) And… I also want to say, that Henkin gives a lot of description of moving through the locations, the streets of the towns, the buildings, etc. Made me think, if I was from Ann Arbor or NYC, I could shout, “Yes! I KNOW that place!”
I would rank this 3.5 out of 5 stars.
I will share one of the quotes from the back of the book:
“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
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