A Dual Inheritance: Book summary and reviews of A Dual Inheritance by Joanna Hershon

A Dual Inheritance

By Joanna Hershon

A Dual Inheritance
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  • Published in USA  May 2013,
    496 pages.

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Book Summary

For readers of Rules of Civility and The Marriage Plot, Joanna Hershon's A Dual Inheritance is an engrossing novel of passion, friendship, betrayal, and class - and their reverberations across generations.

Autumn 1962: Ed Cantowitz and Hugh Shipley meet in their final year at Harvard. Ed is far removed from Hugh's privileged upbringing as a Boston Brahmin, yet his drive and ambition outpace Hugh's ambivalence about his own life. These two young men form an unlikely friendship, bolstered by a fierce shared desire to transcend their circumstances. But in just a few short years, not only do their paths diverge - one rising on Wall Street, the other becoming a kind of global humanitarian - but their friendship ends abruptly, with only one of them understanding why.

Can a friendship define your view of the world? Spanning from the Cuban Missile Crisis to the present-day stock market collapse, with locations as diverse as Dar es Salaam, Boston, Shenzhen, and Fishers Island, A Dual Inheritance asks this question, as it follows not only these two men, but the complicated women in their vastly different lives. And as Ed and Hugh grow farther and farther apart, they remain uniquely - even surprisingly - connected.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Sharply observed and masterfully constructed, Hershon's (The German Bride, 2009) fourth novel is her strongest yet, a deft and assured examination of ambition, envy, longing, and kinship." - Booklist

"Starred Review. The intensely detailed love triangle is reminiscent of an East Coast elite answer to the Midwestern trio of Freedom, but with mere keen observation in place of that other novel's sweeping moral pronouncements." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. The characters in this novel are fully realized, the story moves along at a fast pace, and the author is well informed about her subject." - Library Journal

"Hershon, par for the course, captures the off-putting rhythms of life's big and little disappointments with verve, but Ed and Hugh are both so pitiably unlikable that it's difficult to conjure much sympathy for them, even in the wake of Ed's prison sentence and Hugh's stunned disbelief that his marriage is crumbling. Meanwhile, the intersection of their two daughters feels a bit forced, even as their characterizations contribute little to the core story. A richly composed but demanding portrait of familial gravity and the wobbly orbits that bring us together again and again." - Kirkus

"This brilliant family saga captured me from its opening lines and kept me pinned to the couch - by turns laughing and sobbing—until I'd reached its stunning, satisfying conclusion. It calls to mind The Corrections and The Emperor's Children, as well as Cheever and Michener and Potok, but this is also a novel squarely in the tradition of Victorian social realism, of Eliot and Galsworthy and Dickens. And like those novels, A Dual Inheritance is a cracking story - populated with complicated, fascinating characters and fueled by surprising turns of plot - but it's also a deft analysis of class and race in America. With it, Joanna Hershon establishes herself as one of the most important storytellers of the new millennium." - Joanna Smith Rakoff, author of A Fortunate Age

"A Dual Inheritance is deep and beautiful and humane. It has a massive scope and a social conscience, and yet is also incredibly intimate. What an accomplished novel; it truly took my breath away." - Jennifer Gilmore, author of Something Red

"Joanna Hershon gives further evidence of a pleasing trend set off by Jonathan Franzen's Freedom and Jeffrey Eugenides's The Marriage Plot: big books about American politics, social customs, and family dynamics that seek to update and relocate the brilliantly compelling English nineteenth-century novel. I envy and admire Hershon's ability to so convincingly display the complex intimacies of multigenerational love and friendship. This is a book to lose yourself in." - Antonya Nelson, author of Bound

"This insightful, worldly, and engaging novel, at once intimate and broad in scope, traverses continents and decades while hewing closely to the psychological shadings of its characters. A rueful comedy of entitlement and chagrin, it says volumes about the way we live now." - Phillip Lopate, author of Getting Personal

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Reader Reviews

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Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Kristine I. (Marion, IL)
Worth The Time
I found A Dual Inheritance a slow but rich read. In some ways it reminded me of The Emperor's Children in that it seemed to have a thread of humor and irony running under the surface of the story. I found myself drawn into the times and places of the characters' lives and reflecting on my own life and how choices and circumstances have changed me. At times it felt that there should be more explanation behind the character's motivations, but the way it is written makes it a book that would lend itself to lively book group discussions. Recommended!

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Tracey S.
A Heartfelt Story
Once I finally got the chance to read "A Dual Inheritance" I could not put it down. I really enjoyed reading about two different families and how they were connected, especially when the daughters met up in school. I think it would be a great book club book as there are a number of characters with different personalities to discuss, plus it's a great book with a great story.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Lucy B. (Urbana, OH)
A Dual Inheritance
I thought the book was very well written, although it was lengthy and took me a while to get to the end. In fact, I read the book a second time just to make sure I hadn't missed something. Hugh Shipley and Ed Cantowitz each thought the other would be the most successful after they graduated from college. But I couldn't make a judgment which one won. I guess my judgment of what success is might not be the same as someone else's.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Sheila S. (Supply, NC)
A Dual Inheritance
I enjoyed "A Dual Inheritance" but wished that the main characters had been better developed. I just didn't get some of the motivations, starting with the improbable friendship between Ed Cantowitz and Hugh Shipley and then with Helen's relationship with Ed. And what about the visit to Helen's home where Ed was treated to a big dose of anti-Semitism - surely Hugh and Helen could have predicted that outcome. Ed's eventual legal problems didn't quite resonate with his portrayal as an ambitious but ethical businessman. And Hugh's infidelities were disappointing. However I loved the last part of the book where all of the characters reunite for Vivi's wedding celebration and there is an unpredictable but happy ending. It was funny and sad and very well written. I also enjoyed the different foreign settings. All in all, I liked the book and will recommend it to friends.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Shaun D. (Woodridge, IL)
A Dual Inheritance
Warning - contains plot spoilers....

I found this book a decent, albeit predictable, read. Nothing terribly exciting or surprising happens and the 2 main characters plod along their unoriginal narratives until the book just ends.

It's a story that's been told many, many times, whether it's 2 brothers, or 2 sisters, or in this case, 2 friends. One friend comes from old-money 'haves' & the other from the wrong side of the tracks with the requisite chip on his shoulder 'have-nots'. Hugh, the 'have' character, disdains the family name, money & inherent priviledges. Ed, the 'have-not' friend (as if just being the poor but brilliant and determined 'have-not' isn't sufficient, he is also Jewish in a setting where that's snobbily derided) dedicates his life to working ridiculously hard and amasssing enough of a fortune that his Jewishness is overlooked in favor of his new-found social standing. Fast forward a few decades, after Hugh realizes that he has spent his life trying to rid himself of what he finally realizes ... is his essential self. He performs the requisite charity work in Africa, marries the WASP-y girl of his dreams, has a family and then, ultimately realizes .... that being from a long line of wealth & priviledge isn't inherently a bad thing, that it's (say it with me now) what you do with said life & wealth & priviledge is what ultimately counts. And of course the same with Ed's journey. He predictably realizes that he was fine as he was made, and that having a goal of making more-than-enough money to buy your way into the snobby country-club life, at the end-of-the-day, leaves one hollow and empty. Thus the 'Dual Inheritence' theory (the title refers to the 2 major factors that contribute to a personality: nature/culture/surroundings nurture/genes/family, etc) leaves the reader to decide: all that Hugh did, everywhere he traveled, he ultimately (and predictably) realized that internally he simply IS from the right-side-of-the- tracks & that's OK. And Ed? Same self-discovery: he made the money, bought the clothes, the homes, all of his focus on the exterior, only to realize that no one sees him any differently b/c he's still the same forthright-to-the-point-of-being obnoxious person on the inside & that's OK. Just like this book itself.......just OK.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Mary S. (Hilton Head Island, SC)
Could Have Been Better
Once again, the author wrote what was a potentially good story and spread it out over 400 pages rather than 300. The character development was poor, especially for the secondary storyline. I found myself wanting to know more about some characters and a lot less about the the thought processes of the two main characters. In this instance, shorter would have been better.

...11 more reader reviews

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Joanna Hershon is the author Swimming and The Outside of August. Her short fiction has been published in One Story and The Virginia Quarterly Review. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, the painter Derek Buckner, and their twin sons. Visit her at joannahershon.com

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