Dec 15, 2008

Matrimony by Joshua Henkin

Joshua Henkin's Matrimony is more than just about how marriage and love can withstand the test of time and the struggles each spouse faces. Julian Wainwright's struggle as a writer to finish his novel and to juggle his marriage, life, a job, and his friends amidst his creative endeavors is central to this novel. In a way, Julian's dedication to his art is like a marriage and it is not surprising that some of his friends and even to an extent his wife, Mia, believe that he should settle down with a "real" job.

Matrimony opens as Julian begins his tenure at Graymont College in Massachusetts and meets his first friend, Carter Heinz. Eventually through their travels they both meet, fall in love, and marry their college sweethearts, Mia and Pilar, respectively. Upon graduation, each couple makes decisions that change their lives and their relationships.

Julian moves to Ann Arbor, Mich., with his wife, Mia, who has become a graduate student in psychology. He wants to write his novel, but he finds agreeing to teach composition at the university is disheartening as it is challenge, especially in terms of the progress he makes on the novel. Carter and Pilar apply to law school in California, but eventually the pressure they place on one another and themselves crushes their marriage.

Henkin's writing style will relax the reader and carry them along through these characters' lives with ease, but this ease also can distance the reader from the characters. Check out this passage from page 45:

Mia's hair was matted to her forehead; it stuck in clumps against her neck. A drop of rain rolled down her chin, and Julian brushed it off with the sleeve of his windbreaker.

They drove home soaked, as if someone had thrown them fully clothed into Boston Harbor. When they stopped at the turnpike to get their ticket, Mia twisted the water from her hair. As she drove on, Julian fell asleep to the rhythm of the car, his nose, his whole face, pressed against the window.

Although the novel's cadence is calming, the characters are well-developed and intriguing enough to keep reading and discovering where they plan to go next. One of my favorite minor characters from the novel is center stage in Julian's world early on--Professor Chesterfield. Julian's professor has established his own workshop rules, including Thou Shalt Never Use Pass-the-Salt Dialogue and Thou Shalt Not Utter the Phrase "Show Don't Tell" When Discussing One Another's Short Stories. At one point in the class Chesterfield asks the students when it is appropriate to have characters pass the salt in a story (page 10). The answer from Julian is expected, but Carter's answer is fantastic and sets up the tension between these two characters early on; this one scene is the foundation for their tension, competition, and friendship.

Although Julian is a writer and other writers can identify with his daily word/page count struggles, he seems dispassionate about his work, about his teaching position, and his marriage. It is only until one event shatters his image of his marriage does he become passionate enough to take bold action.

Throughout all of these struggles each character hits a wall, stumbles, revises their outlook, and moves past the initial obstacles in their way. Although this book is not fast-paced, it presents a great cast and sheds light on how love and marriage can last through a number of trials so long as the parties involved want their relationship to thrive. Julian's evolution throughout the novel moves at a glacial pace like the progress on his novel, but the culmination of these changes is the light at the end of the tunnel. This is one book you can curl up by the fireplace with and relax.

Stay tuned for the giveaway details. . .

About the Author
: (According to his Website)

Joshua Henkin's grew up in New York City, his mother the daughter of a hat manufacturer, his father the son of a famous Orthodox rabbi who lived in the United States for fifty years and never learned any English. His mother: a secular Jew who went to Bryn Mawr College and Yale Law School. His father: a law professor at Columbia who attended Yeshiva University and fought in World War II and who has remained religiously observant. Joshua Henkin is a product of these varied backgrounds, and of this happy marriage.

Matrimony is a New York Times Notable Book, and Joshua Henkin is available for book group discussions; here's the reading group guide. If you're interested in checking out some updates of his recent book discussions go here and here.

Joshua Henkin has offered to giveaway an inscribed copy of Matrimony, a great holiday gift, to one winner anywhere in the world. Yes, this is an international contest.

Enter by leaving a comment here about this post to qualify for one entry. Please include an email or active blog so I can contact you for an address.

Deadline is December 21, Midnight EST

Also Reviewed By:
The Literate Housewife
The 3 R's: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness
She is Too Fond of Books
Age 30 - A Year of Books
Books and Cooks
Reading Room
Bookfoolery and Babble
A Reader's Journal
B&B Ex Libris
Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'?
Shelf Life
The Boston Bibliophile
Trish's Reading Nook
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Confessions of a Real Librarian


Literary Feline said...

This is a wonderful review, Serena. I read this book a few months ago and your review takes me right back to it.

Please don't include me in the contest as I already have a copy of the novel. Good luck to those who do enter for it!

Terri said...

Hi Serena -- well, don't include me either -- I'm reading Matrimony right now and hosting a giveaway on the 22nd! He's a busy guy with all the book bloggers! Glad you liked the book - I'm just starting it.

Linda said...

I've read so many great reviews of this book. Please enter me in the giveaway.
lcbrower40 at gmail dot com

Louise said...

Yes, that is definitely a wonderful review and I also adore the cover of the book, plus it sounds like an interesting read. And seeing that it is an international give away, what can I do but sign up and cross my fingers that book will make it all the way to Denmark :-)

Anonymous said...

hey serena! do enter me for this giveaway..:)

Eva @ One Swede Read said...

Please enter me - I've heard so many good things about this. Thanks!

Florinda said...

Great review - very thoughtful. I enjoyed reading your impressions and have linked to your post in my own review.

Please don't enter me in the giveaway, since I already have the book (and I think you won your copy in my giveaway!).

Speaking of winning - you should have received an e-mail from LibraryThing today. You won my giveaway of a lifetime gift membership - congratulations!

Serena said...

Florinda: I think I did win my copy in your giveaway! YIPEE I get a lifetime membership to LT! I am excited! I haven't gotten an email yet though.

The Bookworm said...

No need to enter me in the giveaway serena, I read this one and enjoyed as well.
great review!
I like the quotes you chose.

Asylumgirl said...

You'd think with his background, Josh would be writing books about law. LOL

deidre_durance at hotmail dot com

Amanda said...

Hey Serena, looks like lots of people like this book, I might as well check it out! Go ahead and enter me, too - my email is on my blogger profile. :)

Ms. Asphyxia said...

I would love a chance to win! morbidromantic{@}

Anonymous said...

Awesome review Serena :) I read this awhile ago.. and I m so glad u liked it :)

Dnt enter me in your giveaway :)

Anna said...

Obviously you don't need to enter me either, but I just wanted to say I enjoyed your review. I think I might need a calming book to read between all the WWII ones on deck for the challenge.

Diary of an Eccentric

Toni said...

I would love a chance to win this book. thank you!

Melwyk said...

Please enter me in this contest; I have been hearing about this book now for what seems like forever and still haven't read it. It really sounds good!

Me... said...

Great review! I've been all over the place trying to win this book!

daq_17 at hotmail dot com

Unknown said...

Thanks alot! Happy Holidays!


Serena said...

Thanks for entering, interested in another chance to win, check out Diary of an Eccentric...the link is in my sidebar. She's giving this away as well...double your chances.

mindy said...

thanks for a nice contest and a great read minsthinsatoptonlinedotnet

Sherry and Gena said...

Please enter me..that sounds like the type of book I love to read!

taterbug said...

The book sounds wonderful! Thanks for the giveaway opportunity.