Excerpt from The World Without You by Joshua Henkin, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The World Without You

A Novel

by Joshua Henkin

The World Without You
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2012, 336 pages
    Apr 2013, 336 pages

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Print Excerpt

“Noelle will still come visit,” she says. “Nothing has to change about that.” Nothing has to change about anything, she wants to say, but she knows that’s absurd.

She has found a rental on the Upper West Side, a two-bedroom in one of those all-services monstrosities, with a gym and a pool, a concierge, a playroom (it will be good for the grandchildren, she thinks), a party room, all the things she could want and a lot of things she couldn’t. It’s eleven blocks from David, which means they could run into each other grocery shopping, though in New York you can go for months without running into your own next-door neighbor. For a while, she thought it would be better to move to another neighborhood (she even considered moving to Brooklyn—Clarissa and Nathaniel live there, so she could be nearby), but except for those few years when the girls were in high school and the family decamped to Westchester, she has spent her whole adult life on the Upper West Side. It’s hard to imagine living anywhere else. And the apartment opened up suddenly and the lease is month to month, so it will be a good place to figure out what comes next. It’s the house in Lenox that makes her heart quicken. Will she be allowed to come back here? Will she allow herself? She and David have been coming to the Berkshires summer after summer for forty years now.

“You checked the food?”

David nods. “Everything’s certified kosher.”

“Are you sure?”

He is.

More Styrofoam peanuts are strewn across the floor, including one that has lodged itself under the fridge, which Marilyn stabs at with a fork. Now she’s standing with David amidst the wreckage, and beside it all sits the bubble wrap unfurled like a runner across the length of the room. “We bought a whole kitchen,” she says. “No spatula left unturned.”

David gives her a tired smile.

“Are we supposed to bless them?” she says darkly. “Is that what you do?”

“Christen them?” David says.

She laughs, as she knows she’s supposed to, and it feels good to laugh with David. For a moment there’s a lightness between them, as if a screen has been lifted.

When David finds her a few minutes later, she’s seated in the alcove that adjoins the living room, typing on the computer. “I know what you’re thinking.”

“What?” he says.

“There she goes again. Writing another op-ed about the war.”

“What do you want me to say?”

“You could say you miss him.”

“Of course I miss him.”

“It’s been a year since he died, for God’s sake. And, yes, I know writing these things won’t bring him back, but I don’t care.” She doesn’t care, either, that she has become a mascot for the left and everyone thinks of her as the mother of the dead journalist. Because that’s what she is. It’s what David is, too: the father of the dead journalist. It’s all they’re ever going to be.

In the kitchen now, he prepares a citrus marinade for the chicken. He has chosen the menu: white gazpacho, caramelized leeks and endive, marinated chicken thighs, jalapeño-lime corn on the cob, pasta salad. They will also have watermelon slushies. At the moment, though, he’s chopping vegetables. The year before Leo died, when he retired after thirty-nine years of teaching high school English, David took a course consecrated to the very subject, five Sundays running at the 92nd Street Y. Slicing and Dicing 101, Marilyn called it; it was evidence, she believed, that he had too much time on his hands.

Though there’s certainly a technique, as he demonstrates now, the way he keeps his knife always on the cutting board, only his wrist moving. That’s all there is these days, just the sound of David when she comes home from work, cutting vegetables in their kitchen on Riverside Drive, the sound of him here too, in Lenox, her husband chopping vegetables. She thinks how hard it’s going to be, living on her own, how she has brought this on herself, the solitude, the silence, and now, when she’s alone, as if in preparation for what’s to come, she has begun to turn on the radio and she listens to music she doesn’t care for, just to hear a sound in the room.

Excerpted from The World Without You by Joshua Henkin. Copyright © 2012 by Joshua Henkin. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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