The World Without You
by Joshua Henkin
Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
[I read an ARC provided by the author]
This is the second Henkin novel I've read Having read and reviewed Matrimony for him a couple years ago and enjoyed it immensely I was eager to read this one. My expectations were high but they were met...and then some.
If this story was fiber art it would be a large tapestry depicting hundreds of scenes from an extended family's life in petite point with a pallet of several dozen colors and it would wrap around a moderate sized room giving one the cozy sense of being in the midst of the drama--almost a participant. There were many moments when I felt sure that if I spoke Marilyn or one of her daughters would turn to listen and respond.
The focus of the story is a family reunion over a July 4th weekend in the family's Berkshire, New York vacation home. The three adult daughter's of Marilyn and David are all in their thirties and coming with significant other's and children (five total, all boys) from Washington DC, Israel and New York. Also arriving from Berkeley, California is the wife and son of their son, a journalist, who had died on July 4th the year before while on assignment in Iraq and the centerpiece of this gathering is to be his memorial service.
On their first evening together Marilyn announces that she is leaving David which throws the already simmering tensions among the siblings and their significant others into a boil. Every couple was already having serious issues of their own and two of the sisters can barely be civil to one another. Now what they had depended on as the bedrock of their lives had become shifting sand in a matter of seconds.
Let the fireworks begin...
It’s July 4, 2005, and the Frankel family is descending upon their beloved summer home in the Berkshires. But this is no ordinary holiday. The family has gathered to memorialize Leo, the youngest of the four siblings, an intrepid journalist and adventurer who was killed on that day in 2004, while on assignment in Iraq.
The parents, Marilyn and David, are adrift in grief. Their forty-year marriage is falling apart. Clarissa, the eldest sibling and a former cello prodigy, has settled into an ambivalent domesticity and is struggling at age thirty-nine to become pregnant. Lily, a fiery-tempered lawyer and the family contrarian, is angry at everyone. And Noelle, whose teenage years were shadowed by promiscuity and school expulsions, has moved to Jerusalem and become a born-again Orthodox Jew. The last person to see Leo alive, Noelle has flown back for the memorial with her husband and four children, but she feels entirely out of place. And Thisbe —Leo’s widow and mother of their three-year-old son—has come from California bearing her own secret.
Set against the backdrop of Independence Day and the Iraq War, The World Without You is a novel about sibling rivalries and marital feuds, about volatile women and silent men, and, ultimately, about the true meaning of family.
What They're Saying:
"Rich, deep, funny, and wise, The World Without You is a sumptuous layer cake of a novel whose ordinary yet urgent dramas remind us that family is where it all begins. Henkin is a writer of voluminous heart, humanity, and talent."
--Julia Glass, author of The Widower's Tale
“Henkin imbues The World Without You with wisdom, humor, and a clear sense of history. This book is a triumph and an important novel about America."
--Yiyun Li, author of Gold Boy, Emerald Girl
"A keenly observant, compassionate novel....
--Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly
"Could be ... a Chekhov play or a Woody Allen movie.... Masterful.... Explore[s] with subtlety and feeling the meaning of family."
--Marion Winik, Newsday
Henkin tenderly explores family dynamics in this novel about the ties that bind, and even lacerate.
“When conventionalists claim, 'They don't write novels like that anymore,' this is the sort of novel they mean....”
"An immeasurably moving masterpiece that tracks the intricate threads connecting children to parents, sisters to brothers, wives to husbands. To say I 'cared' about these characters would be to hugely understate their consuming effect on me."
--Heidi Julavits, author of The Vanishers
Joshua Henkin is the author of the novels MATRIMONY, a New York Times Notable Book, and SWIMMING ACROSS THE HUDSON, a Los Angeles Times Notable Book. His short stories have been published widely, cited for distinction in BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES, and broadcast on NPR's "Selected Shorts." He lives in Brooklyn, NY, and directs the MFA program in Fiction Writing at Brooklyn College.