Summary and book reviews of Matrimony by Joshua Henkin

Matrimony

A Novel

by Joshua Henkin

Matrimony by Joshua Henkin X
Matrimony by Joshua Henkin
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2007, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2008, 304 pages

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Book Summary

It’s 1987, and Julian Wainwright, aspiring writer and Waspy son of New York City old money, meets beautiful, Jewish Mia Mendelsohn in the laundry room at Graymont College. So begins a relationship that spans twenty years, as it takes Julian and Mia across the country and through the depths of family tragedy, love and friendship, money and ambition, desire and tensions of faith.

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.

Excerpt

Julian saw her again, this time in the laundry room. He hoped she didn't notice that next to him, clearly in his possession, was a package of fabric softener. He had a book of stories by Ernest Hemingway, and he placed the book on top of the fabric softener, to balance the picture out.

Mia from Montreal sorted her clothes at her feet. There was a colors pile and a whites pile, and Julian thrust his face into his book so she wouldn't think he was staring at her laundry. Periodically, though, he glanced at Mia herself, who was even more beautiful than he remembered. She was wearing blue jeans and a gray V-neck T-shirt, and her hair was up in a bun.


Julian saw her again, this time in the laundry room. He hoped she didn't notice that next to him, clearly in his possession, was a package of fabric softener. He had a book of stories by Ernest Hemingway, and he placed the book on top of the fabric softener, to balance the picture out.

...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  • Discuss the parent-child relationships in the novel. How much are the lives of Julian, Mia and Carter a rejection of their parents’ lives? Despite how much they try to get away from the patterns of their parents, are they successful? Also consider Professor Chesterfield as a replacement father figure for Julian. What role does genetics play in the parent-child relationships?

  • In a book about a writer, what effect does the autobiographical component have on the story? Julian's desire to be a writer is a catalyst that drives the narrative. What does the novel say about the writer's life?

  • As Julian tried to comfort Mia when her mother was sick, Mia "felt her heart beat against him like something caged in, wings batting, slapping ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

People Magazine
Henkin keeps you reading with original characters, witty dialogue and a view that marriage, for all its flaws, is worth the trouble."

Publishers Weekly
Many scenes are too long, and never get below the surface of the cast, particularly wannabe-litterateur Julian.

Kirkus Reviews
Ragged, but it gets to you and stays with you. Expect even better things from Henkin in the future.

The New York Times - Janet Maslin
Mr. Henkin writes with a winningly anachronistic absence of showiness. There are no big themes or symbols in Matrimony. The idea of matrimony is not treated as a metaphor, nor is it burdened with the weight of heightened realism.

Library Journal
While not earthshakingly original, this novel takes a good look at love, friendship, and marriage from the Reagan years to the new century.

Booklist - Joanne Wilkinson
Henkin never artificially amps up his material, instead allowing the quiet accumulation of his characters' shared experiences to create for his readers a world they will recognize and relate to.

Author Blurb Joan Silber, author of National Book Award Finalist Ideas of Heaven
With vibrant intelligence, Matrimony looks at the mystery of how a couple stays together and the ways even the most privileged among us are subject to the disasters wrought by our incalculable natures. A luminous tale, eloquently told.

Author Blurb Stacey D'Erasmo, author of Tea
The rich rewards of dailyness, the complexity of ordinary human connection, the unexpected ways that love endures, and the frequently hilarious ironies of modern life are on full display in this warm-hearted, clear-eyed novel. Henkin's portrait of a marriage is a portrait of us all

Author Blurb Brian Morton, author of Starting Out in the Evening
Joshua Henkin's Matrimony is a deliciously old-fashioned novel. With no gimmicks, no tricks, Henkin gives us a cast of complex, flawed, utterly real characters, exploring their inner lives with an astonishing sureness of touch. Beautifully written and deeply felt, Matrimony is a miracle of intelligence and heart.

Reader Reviews

readingwhiledriving

Marry Me, Joshua Henkin!
This book made me remember that heady, breathtaking feeling of college friendships and romances. Back in the day when you and your friends could argue about authors, share your dreams of writing a novel and sit naked in hot tubs without feeling like...   Read More

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