Joshua Henkin, 2007, 291 p.
I must say that I’ve been awfully lucky with the novels I’ve been dipping into lately. First, there was The Whistling Season, which was the sweetest of my recent reads, followed by Hearts and Minds (the goofiest), Never Let Me Go (the most frightening) and The Daughter and Watch Me Disappear, which were both very touching. Now I’ve just completed Matrimony, which I will list as the most realistic of all of these novels, and thank goodness for that! I didn’t realize until I was well into Matrimony how much I’d been missing a good modern novel. There is no surrealism, satire, sarcasm or any of the other big “s” words in Matrimony. In this novel, what you read is what you get.
First of all, I’d like to thank Mr. Henkin for sending a copy for me to read and review. I’m loving this! I think it’s terrific the way novelists are so much a part of the book blogging community now—it’s like the Borg Collective for readers, but in a good way. There is nothing that thrills me more than receiving an e-mail from an author, either wanting me to read or thanking me for my review. This is a joyous occession for little ol’ me because novelists are my heroes. I got an “A” on an essay I wrote in college saying that when I die I want to meet Dickens, Lovecraft and Twain and try to find out all I can about them. I’d like to meet Mr. Henkin too, (preferably while he’s still alive). I just know we’d have a great time discussing the meaning of life and joking about the absurdity of it all.
Now, before I babble any more, let me get into the novel. The title is perfect, because all of us are married to practically everthing we do. We’re married to our jobs; we’re married to our routines, our drugs, our thoughts and our emotions. There is not a single person in the world who is not bound to something, so every one of us is married in some way. Matrimony is about marriage in the conventional sense, but it’s also about other ties that bind us and other ties that break. It’s about the choices we make when these ties are severed. Do we repair them or let them stay unbound forever?
Matrimony is deceptively simple. Two college guys become friends, even though they are opposites in many ways. Justin is from a wealthy New York family, Carter is poor and from the West Coast. Both men graduate and marry and live through their 20’s and 30’s in different parts of the country. They get together every once in awhile, and one of their reunions leads to a dramatic change in Justin’s life.
I think what I liked most about Matrimony were the little details of early marriage—the minutiae and day-to-day stuff. Mr. Henkin must have worked very hard to get them just right. There would be times when I’d be reading a passage, thinking, “yeah, I remember feeling that way.” In marriage, once the honeymoon feeling has worn off, you’re left with a kind of ennui; a feeling of disillusionment and the realization that “this is it.” The dream and the reality are often miles apart. This is the “danger zone,” and I think it’s probably a deal breaker in quite a few marriages.
I also really enjoyed the characters. They were all flawed, but I could relate to every one of them, even Justin’s wife, Mia, who was much more OCD than I am. Mr. Henkin did a great job of treading that fine line between letting the characters become yuppie stereotypes or creating totally hateful and unsympathetic parodies of modern young marrieds. Sometimes realism can go overboard and become a ridculous imitation of life. I never felt that way while reading Matrimony.
Matrimony does a excellent job of showing that the decisions we make (or don’t make) during our 20’s often follow us for the rest of our lives. At some point during our early adulthood most of us dive headfirst into our future without really thinking about the consequences, and our lives rarely turn out the way we thought they were going to. In my youthful dreams I was going to be a swimming goddess, and when that came to nothing, I was going to be the the E. F. Hutton of the literature set. When it turned out that the literary community was underwhelmed by my genius, I got married, popped out a couple of kids and became a librarian. Go figure! This is not where I thought I’d be at this time of my life, but it’s not too bad. We all marry our decisions and some of these marriages turn out to be okay while others haunt us for the rest of our lives.
In August, the paperback edition of Matrimony will be released. Mr Henkin will be sending a copy to give away, so keep visiting me! Perhaps you can win the paperback edition of this wonderful novel.