Josh Henkin’s Julian Wainwright is the major character in what is a poignant depiction of Mia and Julian Wainwright’s marriage and all that entails. All of the emotional upheaval one might expect in a marriage filled with infidelity, suspicion, and loss, is found in Julian’s marriage to Mia. Julian’s plans for the perfect life change as he finds he must face reality. He learns what life gives each of us, and how it changes our plans, sometimes rather quickly, but more often than not, rather steadily, determines what really happens next in our well planned existence. These plans can produce positive as well as negative results.
At the age of 13, Julian meets author John Cheever and from that point on, all Julian wants to do is write. He attends Graymont College, known for its excellent writing program, where he becomes one of four freshmen who the story follows for the next few decades. One, of course is Mia Mendelsohn from Montreal. Theirs is a story book start with instant attraction and falling in love. Also in the group is Carter Heinz, a scholarship student all the way from California, who is probably THE most talented writer in the group, and also the poorest financially. Carter tries, but often just can’t control the jealousy he feels toward Julian, because of the wealth Julian is lucky to be born into. These feelings toward Julian cause Carter to almost miss an opportunity for a truly glorious friendship. Carter’s girlfriend, Pilar, completes the foursome. Pilar’s parents are lawyers and she wants to follow in their footsteps. The failures and successes of these two couples are chronicled so well by Henkin over the next few years.
While Julian struggles to be the writer he just knows he can be, they find out that Mia’s mother is ill. Things are set in motion as decisions seem to be made for them at this point. Mia’s mom has breast cancer and Mia decides she really wants to marry Julian before her mother dies. And so, having married right after graduation, Julian moves to follow Mia as she continues her education. Their travels take them from their New England college town to one in the Midwest as Mia’s postgraduate work is in the field of psychotherapy. While Mia is in school, Julian teaches some courses and continues to write. Eventually, they wind up in New York. With each move, and each year of marriage, Julian and Mia find old secrets coming out and their marriage is tested to the point of destruction.
Julian goes to Berkley to watch Carter graduate from Law School. Carter, who has founded a computer software start-up company, is now worth millions. Carter’s wife, and college sweetheart, have split up. So the two friends get together to talk about the good old days and Carter let’s a supposedly unintentional secret slip out. At this point, the path this story will take is up for grabs as to whether Julian and Mia will be able to get over this next hurdle. Along with that, Mia finds out she carries the same breast cancer gene that her mother did and the story goes once again in another direction as priorities change.
Henkin’s writing makes for a moving account set in just the right atmosphere that keeps readers involved with the story. The characters are real and the reader can relate to them, believe in them, and more importantly, care about them. What happens with the knowledge Julian learned and the battle Mia faces, is what brings this story to its stunning conclusion. MATRIMONY is an enjoyable read and beautifully written, relatable story.
The Man Behind MATRIMONY, Joshua Henkin, (JH) author
(Live interview via phone by KH )
Recently, I had the honor of interviewing the author of MATRIMONY, Joshua Henkin, via phone for my book blog. He was friendly and open and a pure joy to talk with. He is an inspiration and I am jealous of his creative writing students who get to learn from him. This interview was personally transcribed by me, and any changes, mistakes, or form that is incorrect is strictly my fault including all grammar and punctuation but how do you transcribe a casual discussion like we had? I tried to transcribe exactly what Joshua said so one would get the feeling of the conversation I was privileged to have with him.
KH: What is the next or current book you are working on?
JH: My next book is over due and it is tentatively called THE WORLD without you and its another novel….due to publisher a while ago and I’ve gotten my deadline extended. Matrimony took me 10 years to write, this one is hopefully going to take me less but I’ve got probably about 175 pages and I think its going to be another couple of years but hopefully it is going to be as good as it can be.
KH: I read where when your computer broke; you went to writing by hand which I thought that was extremely interesting.
JH (laughing): Yes
KH: What have you just finished reading or do you have time?
JH: Right now I am in the middle of a novel by Roxana Robinson called COST and I think it’s a terrific book and I really like her work in general. She’s a great short story writer also…and I just got a review copy in the mail…it looked very interesting to me. You know I teach Creative Writing also so I spend a lot of time reading my students’ work….
…Next on my list is a book called THE SPARE ROOM by Helen Garner. She’s an Australian writer…and actually a terrific book of stories that I’ve just read recently is called MOTHER AND SONS by Colm Tobin, an Irish writer…a really amazing book of stories.
KH: Where do you teach creative writing?
JH: I teach mostly at Sarah Lawrence College and a little bit in the graduate program at Brooklyn College. At Sarah Lawrence I teach MFA students and undergrads, and at Brooklyn College just MFA students.
KH: What gets you started on a new book? A character or story idea or….?
JH: Yeah, its very hard to know, I mean I certainly for me character is at the heart of fiction like when I read a novel what I want at the end of the book is not necessarily to like the characters, because there are plenty of great novels where the characters aren’t particularly likable like Richard Yates’ REVOLUTIONARY ROAD or Martin Amos’s work but I think in a good novel you feel at the end of a book that you know the characters as well as or better than the people in your own life and so if a book does that to me when I read than in fact the writer has done well by me, and that’s what I’m trying to do as a writer…and so the character is central to me but I think that the relation between plot and the character is symbiotic ….we both create our stories and are created by them.
So in thinking of terms of character, I’m usually trying to set my characters in a situation where something’s at stake, something big can happen…I started MATRIMONY—I basically start with no clue—-but I started MATRIMONY with the first three words “out, out, out” and with the idea the novel would be about a love relationship and it was taking place at a college reunion. And it is about a love relationship although it’s about other things and there is a college reunion but it doesn’t come until page 270 and lasts for only six pages. So pretty early on it was clear to me that I didn’t have a clue and I think that really important that it can really hamper him in knowing too much. So I start with character and I place them in situations and I see where I go from there but it’s basically the characters get developed incrementally … you don’t know them until you actually write them so to me its about being blind for the first draft and then about going back once you have this mess and trying to figure out how to make it more coherent.