Author: Joshua Henkin
Release Date: October 2, 2007
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
From the back cover:
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.
Matrimony is the story of Julian and Mia, told over the course of about twenty years. It’s not really a series of vignettes because it is a continuous novel, yet the reader receives mere snapshots into the lives of the main characters. It’s an effective technique because it allows Henkin to tell this long and complicated story by focusing on the interesting parts, rather than by communicating every detail. As a result, the reader is never bored.
I’ve heard this a lot, but I’m going to say it again: If I had to choose one word to describe this book, it would be “quiet.” Matrimony isn’t about explosions or earthquakes, so if that’s what you’re looking for then this novel probably isn’t for you. Instead, it’s about daily life. Yes, there are horrible things that happen, as there are wonderful things that happen. But eventually, life moves on, one day after the next. The way I’ve written that may make the novel seem tedious, but it isn’t at all. Instead it is a beautiful testament to everyday existence, something that each of us does but never takes the time to think about.
The title of the book is fitting because the novel is, in the end, a tribute to marriage. It is about finding one person you love and making it work. It is about the fights, the annoyances, the joys, yes, but it is also about those quiet moments in between when each of you are just living. It really is a beautifully written novel that is a joy to read.
In the end, there were things I wished about Matrimony. I wanted Mia and Julian to communicate more. I wished that Carter had never confessed to Julian and let sleeping dogs lie. But the whole point is the novel is about real life. We all have wishes, about our own lives or other people’s. But that doesn’t mean that they come to pass. I’ve read some reviews about frustrations with the novel, and I sympathize. But I definitely don’t agree.
Josh Henkin’s Matrimony is a small, easy read that is great for a rainy day. If you haven’t had the chance to pick this one up yet, don’t wait. It’s one that’s definitely worth reading.