The BookBrowse Review

Published June 9, 2021

ISSN: 1930-0018

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The BookBrowse Review

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Book Jacket

Morningside Heights
A Novel
by Joshua Henkin
15 Jun 2021
304 pages
Publisher: Pantheon Books
ISBN-13: 9781524748357
Genre: Novels
Critics:
Readers:
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A tender, powerful, and big-hearted novel about love in the face of loss, from the award-winning author of The World Without You and Matrimony.

When Ohio-born Pru Steiner arrives in New York in 1976 after graduating from Yale, she follows in a long tradition of young people determined to take the city by storm. But when she falls in love with Spence Robin, her hotshot young Shakespeare professor, her life takes a turn she couldn't have anticipated.

Thirty years later, something is wrong with Spence. The Great Man can't concentrate; he falls asleep reading The New York Review of Books. With their daughter Sarah away at medical school, Pru must struggle on her own. One day, feeling particularly isolated, Pru meets a man, and the possibility of new romance blooms. Meanwhile, Spence's estranged son from his first marriage has come back into their lives. Arlo, a wealthy entrepreneur who invests in biotech, may be his father's last, best hope.

Morningside Heights is a sweeping and compassionate novel about a marriage surviving hardship. It's about the love between women and men and children and parents, about the things we give up in the face of adversity, about what endures when life turns out differently from what we thought we signed up for.

#1 Indie Next Pick for June
The New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice Book
One of 2021's Most Highly Anticipated New Books—Newsweek

"Joshua Henkin's novel is a richly textured family portrait that feels deeply familiar yet profoundly moving and illuminating. As in the best fiction, you come away from Morningside Heights reluctantly—attached to its characters and with new understanding of what it is to be a feeling person dealing with life's unpredictability ... His book succeeds not by dint of dazzling language or narrative sleight of hand, but by his unwavering empathy, which leads him to create remarkably real, complex characters."—Heller McAlpin, The Wall Street Journal

"An intimate portrait of a marriage...A literary examination of love in later life, Morningside Heights highlights the complexities of monogamy, family, and love."—Zibby Owens, Good Morning America

"In the sheer pleasure of reading Joshua Henkin's new novel—of following its swift narrative movements, getting to know its all-too-human characters, inhabiting its detail-perfect settings, its relentlessly accurate portrayals—of marriage and parenthood and siblinghood—we can almost forget, for moments on end, that its subject is one of the most painful imaginable: the loss of a self, of a marriage, of a shared life. But the real magic of Morningside Heights is the way it lifts us up, reminding us that ordinary people undertake extraordinary acts of survival every day."—Julie Orringer

"Reading Morningside Heights is an emotional experience. How much can befall a marriage, and what extraordinary demands must sometimes be met for loved ones to endure. But it is a delightful read as well, because the people here are such thoroughly engaging company. So much that happens in this book is unexpected that it reads at the pace of a suspense novel, but its greatest achievement is to make us feel that we are in the presence of real people, living out their joys and sorrows and making their way in the real world."—Sigrid Nunez

"What does it really mean: in sickness and in health, till death do us part? Morningside Heights knows the answer. In this tender, wise, and unflinching novel, Joshua Henkin traces the bittersweet arc of a lifelong love, with all its joy and pain."—Tom Perrotta

"You know a novel is good when the thought of leaving the world it creates and the people who live there fills you with sadness and a profound sense of loss. Joshua Henkin's Morningside Heights is just such a novel."—Richard Russo

"Henkin brilliantly conveys the complexities of a New York City family in this humane, compulsively readable tale...This is a stunning achievement."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Henkin treats the complications of a complicated disease with insight, honesty, and humanity, in a style that is as readable as it is consummately literate."—Library Journal

Write your own review

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Sheila A
Memorable, Real and Relatable Characters
Joshua Henkin has written a book that feels so true with characters who are so real with all their majesty and flaws. The story revolves around the great Shakespeare scholar and popular professor, Spence Robin. The three other main characters are his wife, Pru, who has given up her career opportunities to support him, their daughter Sarah, and his son from an earlier marriage, Arlo, as well as his caretaker Ginny.
Each of the characters are somewhat isolated from others for various reasons. Sarah has departed New York City for medical school on the west coast. Arlo, who only lived with the family for a brief time, has left to find his own way. He returns for one visit with Sarah at college and then as a benefactor after Spence is ill. Pru is alone except for her college friend, Camille. Then the wonderful caretaker, Ginny comes into their life. Henkin uses this opportunity to point out the subtle differences in class and opportunity and the slight racism that exists.
The depiction of Alzheimer's is very true to life. My mother and a close friend experienced early onset, so I know how the disease affects the main caretaker and the family. I understand the denial, and the constant effort it takes to try to stem the tide of the inevitability of the disease's progress.
Henkin writes so movingly about the marital and familial love in this family. And while it seems like another depressing book, it turns out to be hopeful and uplifting. I enjoyed reading it and highly recommend it

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Gretchen M. (Martinsburg, WV)
Couldn't Put It Down
I haven't enjoyed a book like this one in awhile. Characters who are real and funny and honest, a plot that flows and a difficult subject matter depicted with respect and sensitivity. It's so much more than the book jacket describes. Read it!

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by What are words?
Intertwined lives
Forgo vs. forego; sleight vs. slight; principle vs. principal; flout vs. flaunt; grizzly vs. grisly; mantel vs. mantle; anaticlimactic not anticlimactic - why do these word pairs matter? Do they matter at all? Professor Spence Robin's son Arlo knows that they do not matter, yet to his father, they are a concrete measurement of Arlo's education and ability.

Morningside Heights is divided into 8 sections each one with its own emphasis on a character from the book and his or her relationships. The book revolves around the life of Professor Spencer Robin who is a professor of Shakespeare at Columbia University. He is an academic star and one of the youngest professors at the university.

The story begins when Pru Steiner enrolls in the Professor's class. Their relationship is pivotal in the book. The Intellectual Professor gradually crumbles under the diseases of Alzheimer's and dementia sometime after Pru and the Professor are married.

The novel expertly weaves in and out of the four characters' lives. It examines the joys and devastating consequences that life in a loving but dysfunctional family bring.

Often a soft touch of humor enters into the novel. In chapter 33 a scene of lovemaking turns from romantic to awkward mirroring the life of the relationship itself.

This novel would be an excellent choice for a book club as it challenges our perceptions of love, Alzheimer's disease, and awkward familial relationships in blended family and other family issues.

This novel is insightful and timely- a tribute to the frailty of familial love.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Patty S. (Towson, MD)
Believe In These Characters!
I was so moved by MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS that I had to let it sit for a couple of days before I could write about it. It is the story of a family that will experience hard things. It took me almost no time at all to become invested in Joshua Henkin's characters. They are alive and their experiences ring true, from the sweetness to the excruciating pain. Through it all, it is love and compassion that keeps them putting one foot in front of the other. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Susan P. (Boston, MA)
Morningside Heights
This is a sweet and sad story. Pru, a young Jewish woman from the Midwest, starts graduate school at Columbia and falls for her professor. She finds all the lovely things about him are counterbalanced by problems (his previous marriage, his overshadowing fame) and, later, his declining health. Not a long book, but a very deliberate and well-thought-out story of perhaps an ordinary person who really is inspirational (without trying to be anything remotely like that). Hard to put down!

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Mary S. (Hilton Head Island, SC)
Realistic and Compelling
Seldom does a story about a family attain the realism that the author did in this book. Perhaps I am at an age when the storyline depicts situations similar to my own, but I identified with each of the characters completely. The author's use of parallel timelines captured my attention and made me want to read on and learn "what happens next". The life situations were believable and enduring-- I highly recommend this book as a quick, enjoyable read!

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Cynthia V. (New York, NY)
Surprisingly Uplifting
A novel about a literature professor's battle with early onset Alzheimer's does not sound like something I'd ordinarily be drawn to. But this book is so much more. The setting is contemporary Upper West Side New York in the environs of Columbia University. The family members experience complex and sometimes contradictory emotions, which are honest and unsentimental. I found the author's writing of the family dynamics lovingly natural and unselfconscious. The time frame goes back and forth, but easily understood and serves character development well. Reading this compassionate, well-written and ultimately life affirming novel was a pleasure.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Judith Guffey
Everyman’s story
The revolving doors of these families kept me engaged and eager to read the next part. A story of love, mistrust, abandonment, forgiveness, and care for one another. Poignant and bittersweet. I devoured this book in a few hours.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Beth B. (New Wilmington, PA)
Remniscences in Morningside Heights
Do not miss reading this novel! Its colorful cast of characters impart wisdom that is insightful and unforgettable. Issues span a wide range of topics from family interaction to education to illness and its effects on this family to caregivers and forever friends. The author, Joshua Henkin, addresses how we appear and disappear, fading in and out of vitality and purpose. It would be difficult to name a favorite character; all are rich in their own right. How rare to discover such texture and perspective in a novel! I look forward to reading it again immediately, this time making journal entries of favorite sections.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Gail K. (Saratoga Springs, NY)
Morningside Heights, a Love Story
Although it sounds like a cliché, Morningside Heights is a love story. It is the love story of a husband and a wife, parents and children, even caregivers and the person needing care. These relationships are at times difficult, tender, poignant and sometimes humorous. In spite of the fact that there is tragedy at the core of this novel, Henkin's handling of it is authentic without being maudlin. I finished this book with a sigh, knowing these characters will remain with me well beyond the last page. Now I look forward to reading Henkin's earlier work.

more reviews...

Joshua Henkin is the author of the novels Matrimony, a New York Times Notable Book, and Swimming Across the Hudson, a Los Angeles Times Notable Book and The World Without You, winner of the 2012 Edward Lewis Wallant Award for Jewish American Fiction and a Finalist for the 2012 National Jewish Book Award. His short stories have been published widely, cited for distinction in Best American Short Stories, and broadcast on NPR's "Selected Shorts." His fourth novel is Morningside Heights (June 2021). He lives in Brooklyn, NY, and directs the MFA program in Fiction Writing at Brooklyn College.

Other books by this author at BookBrowse:

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