Matrimony by Joshua Henkin

From the moment he was born, Julian Wainwright has lived a life of Waspy privilege. The son of a Yale-educated investment banker, her grew up in a huge apartment on Sutton Place, high above the East River, and attended a tony Manhattan private school. But more than anything, Julian ants 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 her 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 fist, meeting her by chance in the college laundry room. Soon they begin a love affair that-spurred on by a family tragedy-will carry them to graduation and beyond, taking them through several college towns, spanning twenty years. But when Carter reappears, working for an Internet company in California, he throws everyone’s life into turmoil: Julian’s, Mia’s, his own.

This book has been making its way through the blogosphere and rightfully so because Matrimony is wonderfully simple. Two college guys, Julian and Carter, become friends even though they’re complete opposites. Both of them go on to fall in love with Mia and Pilar, respectively. Mr. Henkin does not rely on Ebola outbreaks and bomb scares to keep the narrative going but rather the story flows on all by it’s own.

Seeing as how I’ve never been married, or dated, I think the honeymoon is over feeling aspect of Matrimony is slightly lost on me. And even I think it’s a little strange that Mia and Julian don’t even talk about her nine-year-old secret. You would have thought that there would have been more emotion during that part, more compromising. After all, my parents have always said that marriage is about compromise.

“It’s a lot like writing,” he said. “You get it all done on the page and then attend to the mess.” (pg. 189)

However, probably my overall favorite part of this novel is the way we feel Mia’s grief over her mother’s breast cancer. I felt the same way when my mother was diagnosed three years ago. I remember the grief, the inability to not think about it, the wish to punch people in the face who say they understand. And the decisions Mia has to make over her mother’s breast cancer hit close to home for me.

“She sounds like a philosopher,” Julian said. “Never let a fact get in the way of a theory.” (pg. 214)

As a side note, since I have a Newfoundland and am constantly asked “What kind of dog is that?”, I was very excited to read about Mary the Newfoundland in Matrimony.

“A few mornings a week Julian began to walk Mr. Quincy’s Beagle, and then other dogs, too, and soon he could be seen walking along the streets of Northington with eight ot nine dogs at his side, Retrievers, Collies, Shepherds, a St. Bernard, and Mary, his favorite, an aging Newfoundland who trailed the rest of the pace like a den mother and who, like Julian, seemed filled with the spirit od discovery, turning her head from side to side like someone perched on a parade float. Mary was so big a few of the Northington children thought she was a bear until Julian assured them she was dog, and he allowed them to feed Mary scraps of meat, which he carried in a cellophane baggie inside his knapsack.” (pg. 18)

It took me about two weeks to finish this novel. I wouldn’t say that’s a flaw with the writing style but rather with my preoccupation. Usually, when I’m not finishing up an internship or starting school, books like Matrimony would take me about two or three days to finish.

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • Henkin, Joshua. Matrimony. New York: Pantheon, 2007. Print. 304 pgs. ISBN: 9780375424359. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Pantheon. Retrieved: August 29, 2008.

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