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.
Some of the recent comments posted about The World Without You. Join the discussion! You can see the full discussion here.
Are there better and worse ways to mourn?
There is no right or wrong way to grieve, we all do it in our own ways. The characters in this story exemplify this. We don't have to like how they do it but boy they sure do it on their own ways - janen
Do you agree with Noelle’s decision?
No, I agree with most of the other posts. She sure could have found food to eat in this country. I'm there are kosher grocery stores in NY ! By doing this she kept herself apart from her family which she clearly wanted to be a part of. It also... - janen
Is infertility always harder for the woman than for the man?
I think it depends on the individual. Not to generalize, (as she begins to generalize), I would think it would be more of an issue for women. I know men have come a long way, but in the end, I think women seem to ultimately decide wether to be... - mary annb
Josh Henkin answers questions about "The World Without You"
Josh - You cited some of my favorites, as well. I love Woolf, Eugenides and Strout. Likewise GG Marquez (the fact he has dementia breaks my heart), Margaret Atwood, Faulkner and oh, so many others! I know, it's hard to narrow down. - lisag
What makes David such a likable character?
David: wise, kind, compassionate, patient, turn the other cheek kind of guy...extremely intelligent probably..but easily dominated...but I feel he was an anchor or the stability when everything else seemed to be coming unhinged. - debrap
Where do you think the characters will be in ten years?
The only one I have a good feeling for is Thisbe. I think that she will have a happy future. I think marilyn will come to regret her divorce. Noelle and Amram will plod on with their dysfunction and I'm not so sure that the other two sisters will... - irisf
Why did Amram bring Gretchen back?
I think he brought her back to show what a " good guy" he was, a way of ingratiating himself into the family. He know he was not a favorite son-in-law. He might have felt that Gretchen would support him as she certainly felt that marriage and... - Peggy H
Few American novelists, living or dead, have ever been as good as Henkin at drawing people.
[I]t's damn difficult to make the basic unhappy-family novel distinctly one's own. Henkin does so with a one-two combination of strengths: psychological empathy for his realistic characters, and an expository modesty that draws attention away from the skilled writing itself .
The Huffington Post
Heart-searing, eye-tearing, and soul-touching
The Boston Globe
Blazingly alive. . . . [Henkin] grounds his novel in both time and place, creating a living, breathing world. . . . Gorgeously written, and as beautifully detailed as a tapestry, Henkin delicately probes what these family members really mean to one another. . . . [C]ompassionate, intelligent, and shining
The Denver Post
Henkin juggles [his] large cast of characters with ease, telling a poignant story while maintaining each unique identity. This is no small trick, as the characters are neither perfect nor perfectly unlikeable. They are, in the end, a family. They do what families do, which is a complex dance of happy and sad, of distance and intimacy.
San Francisco Chronicle
Intimate and insightful. ... In The World Without You, Henkin ... reminds us that families are icebergs, with nine-tenths of their emotions just below the surface, capable of wreaking havoc when struck.
New York Times, Malena Watrous
Editor's Choice Book: The World Without You definitely favors character over plot. The most dramatic event, Leo's death, has already happened. Set over three days, the book gives the illusion of progressing in real time, as if it could chronicle every scene, excluding no line of dialogue, juxtaposing the banal, the poignant and the pointed. Henkin rotates through his cast, moving elegantly from one perspective to another and providing ample background to illuminate the tensions each person feels in the present...Henkin excels at the female point of view — a good thing, since this novel features six strong and distinct women. (And hardly surprising, since any writer who names characters Clarissa and Lily better share some sensibilities with Virginia Woolf.) Henkin's prose is elegant but unobtrusive, always serving the characters. Although the cast is large, you get to know them deeply, like real people, and while they’re not all easy to like, neither are the members of any family.
In this densely detailed and touching portrait, Henkin shows how the loss eats away at Leo's wife, parents and sisters, testing beliefs and loyalties they've taken for granted. Intense and self-questioning, none of them thinks in terms of 'closure.' But you finish the book hoping these complicated, appealing people will find a way forward.
Henkin creates a powerful sense of each individual's hopes, fears and simmering aggravations, set against the evocative landscape of childhood summers. ... The World Without You gives us a welcome portrait of the repercussions of faraway wars on people who usually consider themselves to be spectators. The most powerful and unexpected effect in this compassionate and beguiling novel is not what it tells us about Leo and his final days, but how much Henkin makes us care about those he has left behind.
[An] honest and well-paced look at an American family. Point this one out to contemporary fiction fans of Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, or the works of Rick Moody, Richard Russo, Philip Roth, and John Updike.
Starred Review. An intelligently written novel that works as a summer read and for any other time of the year.
Starred Review. A novel that satisfies all expectations in some very familiar ways.
Julia Glass, author of The Widower's Tale
Rich, deep, funny, and wise, this 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.
Heidi Julavits, author of The Vanishers
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.
Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story
Witty, poignant, and heartfelt. The 4th of July will never be the same for me, nor for my fellow Americans. I can't imagine a world without Joshua Henkin.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Becky H The World Without You Henkin, as in MATRIMONY his first book, is a wonderful writer. Unfortunately, I don’t know ANY of his characters. But more importantly, I don’t WANT to know them. The father is distant, the mother is self-absorbed. Clarissa, who has turned her back... Read More
Rated of 5
by Jeff S. A good book about family I found The World Without You to be a very satisfying novel of a dysfunctional family. It is the story of a family coping with the loss of their son/brother a year previous in Iraq. The family is brought together by the anniversary of the... Read More
Rated of 5
by Kathryn Unhappy families This book has a compelling sense of intimacy that draws you into this unhappy family right away. It is a story about the characters of a family who have suffered a devastating loss, but still have to go on living every day as if things were the... Read More
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