Saturday, May 10, 2008

Review: Matrimony

Summary: From the moment he was born, Julian Wainwright has lived a life of Waspy privilege. The son of a Yale-educated investment banker, he grew up in a huge apartment on Sutton Place, high above the East River, and attended a tony Manhattan private school. Yet, more than anything, he wants to get out–out from under his parents’ influence, off to Graymont College, in western Massachusetts, where he hopes to become a writer.

When he arrives, in the fall of 1986, Julian meets Carter Heinz, a scholarship student from California with whom he develops a strong but ambivalent friendship. Carter’s mother, desperate to save money for his college education, used to buy him reversible clothing, figuring she was getting two items for the price of one. Now, spending time with Julian, Carter seethes with resentment. He swears he will grow up to be wealthy–wealthier, even, than Julian himself.

Then, one day, flipping through the college facebook, Julian and Carter see a photo of Mia Mendelsohn. Mia from Montreal, they call her. Beautiful, Jewish, the daughter of a physics professor at McGill, Mia is–Julian and Carter agree–dreamy, urbane, stylish, refined.
But Julian gets to Mia first, meeting her by chance in the college laundry room. Soon they begin a love affair that–spurred on by family tragedy–will carry them to graduation and beyond, taking them through several college towns, over the next ten years. Then Carter reappears, working for an Internet company in California, and he throws everyone’s life into turmoil: Julian’s, Mia’s, his own.

Starting at the height of the Reagan era and ending in the new millennium, Matrimony is about love and friendship, about money and ambition, desire and tensions of faith. It asks what happens to a marriage when it is confronted by betrayal and the specter of mortality. What happens when people marry younger than they’d expected? Can love endure the passing of time?

In its emotional honesty, its luminous prose, its generosity and wry wit, Matrimony is a beautifully detailed portrait of what it means to share a life with someone–to do it when you’re young, and to try to do it afresh on the brink of middle age. -- Pantheon Books

I'll admit that I was a little afraid to read MATRIMONY. The author, Joshua Henkin, offered to drive 2 hours each way to visit my book club. While I am extremely excited to have this incredible opportunity, I am also really worried that I wouldn't "love" the book. For the past few months, I kept telling myself that it was a New York Times Notable Book -- and that has to mean something. Thank goodness that I really did enjoy the book. (Now, I can move on to worrying about the discussion!)

MATRIMONY was a beautifully written book. Joshua Henkin is truly a gifted writer. I am a little in awe of his writing style and the way he develops the characters. The story was heavily character driven (as opposed to plot driven), and some readers might have a little problem with that if they are looking for a lot of action. After reading this book, I felt like the characters were very real. I know that they will remain in my thoughts for quite awhile. I definitely think that's what Mr. Henkin set out to do with this novel. He hints at the importance of character development within the pages of MATRIMONY, "He had nothing against muscular prose; it was the flexing of those muscles that he objected to, and, along with it, a disregard for character, which, for him, was what fiction was about."

I have to wonder how much of the book was autobiographical in nature. Like the character of Julian , Mr. Henkin is also a writer and writing professor. In addition, he also lived in many of the same places as the characters in the book. Julian took quite awhile to write his novel -- Mr. Henkin took 10 years to write MATRIMONY. One quote from the book that might explain all of the similarities is, " should write what you know about what you don't know or what you don't know about what you know. Keep it close enough to home that your heart is in it but far enough away that the imagination can take over." I am dying to ask Mr. Henkin if this is his advice for his students.

MATRIMONY touches upon so many issues that we all face everyday -- there is just so much to talk about after reading this book. For the past few days, I have been seriously thinking about how the book addresses marriage (of course), divorce, friendships, betrayal, competition, parenthood, and parent-child relationships; and that's just a few. I believe that one indication of a great book is whether the reader thinks about it after they finish. If that is the case, MATRIMONY was a pretty terrific read to me.

I think every reader that reads MATRIMONY will take away something different -- something that is meaningful to them. Needless to say, I walked away with quite a bit! Like the characters in the book, I got married relatively young. When I look back, I have to wonder how well you can really know someone in your early 20s. I also enjoyed seeing how some of the characters changed as they got older. I liked seeing how marriage is about ebbs and flows -- there will be times that you grow closer and times that you grow apart -- but a marriage can become stronger throughout difficult times. This is only a few of things that I got from this book, but I don't want to bore you with all of the issues floating through my head right now!

I strongly suggest choosing MATRIMONY for a future book club discussion. Even if all of the members aren't as passionate about the book as I am, there will still be a lot to discuss. If you group is similar to mine and likes to have questions to steer the discussion, there is an excellent reading guide here.

I look forward to writing another post about MATRIMONY and Joshua Henkin after our book club meeting on Tuesday. Keep your fingers crossed that I won't say anything dumb!

Also reviewed at:
Books on the Brain
Care's Online Book Club
Book Addiction
The Hidden Side of a Leaf
The Inside Cover
Book Club Classics
Age 30 - A Year in Books
Blue Archipelago


Anonymous said...

LOL about saying anything dumb. I highly doubt that could happen.

I totally understand about hoping the book will turn out to be a good. In one of my groups, the book isn't and a member has emailed me over it...ugh!

Anonymous said...

I read good things about this book other places, too.

I really like character-driven novels (when I'm in that mood). I'm definitely going to check this one out.

Sandra said...

It seems a lot of people read and reviewed this book. My link is here: