Monday, September 22, 2008

Matrimony by Joshua Henkin--Book Giveaway

Enter to win a paperback copy of Joshua Henkin's Matrimony, inscribed personally by him to the winner.

Note: the cover image to the left is linked to Joshua Henkin's site were there are a lot of related materials such as reader's guides, praise for this New York Times Notable Book, an exerpt and Joshua Henkin's blog, among them.

Also, I've been informed that the opportunity to have Mr. Henkin join your book group's discussion of Matrimony via phone chat which I blogged about Thursday, has been extended due to strong response. The deadline to sign up has been extended to midnight, September 30.

Below the rules for entering I will discuss my own experience with reading Matrimony.

This will be a drawing via random number generator from the pool of valid entries in comments on this post between now and NOON Pacific Coast time, next Monday, September 29, 2008.

This drawing is open to anyone in the world and even PO Box addresses are acceptable. You don't have to have a blog of your own to enter. And you are welcome to enter even if you have previously won a contest on Joystory.

A valid entry is a comment on this post AND a contact email provided either in your comment or, if you prefer, via an email to joystoryATgmailDOTcom. (That format is used on web pages to prevent web crawlers from harvesting emails for spammers.) If you choose to email your @ to me, be sure you clearly identify which comment on this post is your entry. If there is no @ clearly connected to an entry it will be disqualified.

If, in the case of a win, you would like your name in the winner's post to be linked to your URL then be sure either your comment or your email includes it.

Now in order to encourage you to help me spread the word here are two ways you can get extra credit:

1. Blog about this contest and send the post's URL to joystoryATgmailDOTcom with subject Matrimony Giveaway and I will add a second incarnation of your name to the drawing.

2. Your name will be entered again each time another entrant mentions you in their entry comment on this post as the one who sent them. Whether they learned via your blog or another way is irrelevant. Just be sure they know to refer to you by the same name or screen name with which you entered.

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Now, since I just finished Matrimony myself not three hours ago, I'm feeling too intensely wrapped up in the story to provide anything like a formal review, so I'm going to just ramble for awhile about my experience of reading the story. Actually, you know, I'm not sure how much getting distance has to do with it as I don't think I'm cut out for writing formal reviews. I don't much care to read them myself and writing them feels about as appealing as dissecting a frog. But I love reading stories and I love to talk about stories and I love to talk about reading stories.

Matrimony appealed to me on several levels. The story is set in a number of college towns between 1986 and 2005 thus spanning most of the same decades as my own marriage (though mine began more than a decade before the two couples followed in Matrimony) causing the current events that impinged on the characters to trigger memories of how many of those same events had entered my own consciousness. I must of have graduated from high school a full decade before Julian, Mia, Carter and Pilar but I entered my own freshman year of college only nine months before they did, though having been married for six years already I did not experience campus living as those four nineteen year olds did.

Those two and a half years I attended college were the best of my entire life. I noted at the time that it was as exhilarating as falling in love. It was the exposure to ideas and the encouragement to explore them and talk about them that I was in love with. So ever since then I have been drawn to stories set on college campuses.

Because of my own experience of entering college nearly a decade after graduating high school, I was able to identify with Julian when he entered graduate school nearly a decade after graduating from college. The same feeling of displacement because of the age difference between him and the majority of his fellow grad students had discomfited me also. Then when he walked away after only a semester and a half when a family emergency had rearranged his priorities, explaining to a fellow student only, "Life calls." I could deeply understand because a series of events out of my control had forced me to leave school before graduating. Though he more than half wanted to leave while pulling me out of college and out of the college town and all the way out of the state had been about as easy as extracting an impacted wisdom tooth.

As I mused in Friday's post, reading stories for me has been affected by my own training in writing stories. I credit one of my Professors, Lawson Inada, for showing me how to learn from a story how it was made. A few years later his pointers were reinforced when I read Janet Burroway's Writing Fiction. So I can't resist talking about stories that way whenever I can get away with it. Taking care not to give spoilers, I will share a few of my observations on how the story Matrimony was made.

The novel is comprised of sections most of which are set in different college towns, starting with the freshman year of Julian and his best friend Carter and their respective girl friends Mia and Pilar and coming full circle back to that fictional Massachusetts college for their fifteenth reunion. Each of those sections seemed to me to be nearly self-contained stories in their own right with distinct beginnings, middles and endings. It is hard to judge for sure, having read them in order, whether any of the later ones could be encountered on its own terms without prior knowledge of the others. But I can say that I tended to read each section in a single sitting much as I would a short story, feeling a sense of closure and finding it felt natural to set the book aside for a time (whether fifteen minutes or fifteen hours) as each section ended. Each section had its own crisis point and resolution connected with its own integral plot. And yet the whole was definitely greater than the sum of these parts. They are deftly woven into a singular tapestry with a unifying theme and structure.

It is not just the marriages of Julian and Mia and Carter and Pilar that are encountered in Matrimony. The marriages of Julian, Mia and Carter's parents are also reflected upon. The overall effect is to create a examination of the institution of matrimony as a function of society.

Nearly from the moment he graduates from college Julian is engaged in writing a novel himself. He struggles with writer's block and self-doubt. No need for me to elaborate on how easy it was to identify with that. But I do want to share one very startling insight Julian had about the writing process that has given me cause to re-re-evaluate my own work habits and writing process. Quoting from pages 189-190:

Julian had gotten paint on his overalls, and on his shirt, too. Henry was speckled and spattered himself, and the house appeared no better. It looked as if a gigantic ice cream cone had dripped down the side of it.

"You better hope your landlady doesn't show up now."

Henry dipped his paint roller into the can and tossed some paint against the wall. "It's a lot like writing," he said. "You get it all down on the page and then attend to the mess."

Julian had once heard an analogy made between writing and architecture. You had to lay down the foundation before you focused on the molding. But he went about things differently. He revised as he went along. Every sentence had to be right before he moved on to the next one because each sentence grew organically from the one that preceded it. For him, the foundation was the molding.
Emphasis added by me to highlight the point I need to contemplate. As this precisely describes the way I used to work and at some point I came to see it as a problem that needed fixing having encountered countless similar analogies to the 'make a mess' and 'lay a foundation' ones presented here. I need to think deep on this. Especially with NaNoWriMo fast approaching. I may have something more to say about this in an upcoming Friday Foray In Fiction post.

For now I leave you with two videos. The first of Joshua Henkin being interviewed about Matrimony and writing. The second a video book trailer of Matrimony.





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