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By Meg Wolitzer
Meg Wolitzer's novels include The Interestings; The Uncoupling; The Ten-Year Nap; The Position; and The Wife. She is also the author of a novel for young readers, The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman. Wolitzer's short fiction has appeared in The Best American Short Stories and The Pushcart Prize. In September 2013, along with singer-songwriter Suzzy Roche, she will be a guest artist in the Princeton Atelier program at Princeton University.
To open a novel when your characters are in college is to invite the reader into a world that’s just beginning. In her excellent new novel, A Dual Inheritance, Joanna Hershon offers up two protagonists, Ed and Hugh, a Jew and a WASP, two men with very different economic and cultural backgrounds, sensibilities and internal compasses, at the exact moment when they first meet at Harvard in 1962. Her observations of college life in that era are casually and unselfconsciously rendered:
“They went to Adams House and drank gin with limes, and Ed met the head of the drama club and a Crimson writer whose work he admired. Ed watched as girls approached Hugh and Hugh ignored their not-so-subtle invitations. Ed marveled at how, like preening birds, they offered their pale necks, their bosoms, arranged their jewelry to catch the light as if lighting were the issue.”
But this is not a college novel at all, and in fact Harvard is just the springboard to many other places, among them Africa, Haiti and Shenzhen, China, all rendered with authenticity and lightness of touch. It’s a pleasure to see such a close-grained writer use the world as freely as her characters do, and not feel compelled to huddle in a small square of real estate, somehow thinking that that’s the best way to emphasize her protagonists’ interior lives. Interior and exterior lives are given equal shrift here, in a novel that is both psychologically complex and observant in matters of place and time. The latter becomes important as Hershon ambitiously powers her two men across not just continents but also across decades.
A novel of friendship can be harder to pull off than, say, a family novel, in which the characters’ connection is readymade, and it isn’t all that hard to arrange to put two people in the same room every once in a while (think holidays). Though in real life, friends can go a very long time without seeing each other, and though a relationship can shift overtly or microscopically, only a patient, knowing writer allows herself to take the time needed to approximate the rhythms of a long and complicated friendship.
It’s wonderful to see a novelist give her characters lives that are messy and let them engage in relationships that can be baffling. There’s a love triangle here, and a satisfying generational storyline. Neither Hugh nor Ed are given the “curfew” that a more anxious and intrusive writer might insist upon as a way to control the narrative. Instead, they are allowed to unspool, revealing themselves to the reader slowly, subtly, over the course of this observant novel of friendship, love, class and fate.
I’ve always been fascinated by distinct places and periods of time in which unlikely friendships are possible. My last novel was about German settlers in the American Southwest during the mid-1800s. During the writing process, I realized that what compelled me most about this time and place was not just the historical details--so fascinating and unlike our modern existence--but what fertile ground it was for improbable relationships to blossom.
The protagonists of my new novel, A Dual Inheritance, meet in a more prosaic way--at college--than did those 19th century pioneers, but Harvard in the early 1960s had its own set of charms and challenges. Because of their wildly different backgrounds, issues of class and money beset best friends Ed Cantowitz and Hugh Shipley, though more salient is how they both identify as outsiders. But what happens to such a bond over time? How much do their different backgrounds ultimately matter?
Their story takes the reader all over the globe (Dar es Salaam, Shenzhen, Haiti; the wilds of Wall Street) and spans two generations, encompassing a cast of characters to whom I hope you’ll grow just attached as I have. This is the story of two lives converging and—just as quickly—diverging; it’s the surprising, even shocking reverberations of one brief friendship.
*Starred Review* This multigenerational saga spanning almost five decades kicks off with the meeting of Ed Cantowitz and Hugh Shipley at Harvard. The driven Jew and the aimless blue blood couldn’t be more different, but Ed’s persistence with the laconic Hugh cements their friendship. When the love of Hugh’s life, Helen Ordway, comes back into the picture, the three become an inseparable trio. Hugh and Helen try, with little success, to find a girlfriend for Ed. Upon graduation, Hugh makes his way to Tanzania to participate in a documentary, while Ed heads to Wall Street to work for Helen’s father. While Hugh falls into aid work overseas, Ed forms a company with three other men and becomes a stunning success. Helen floats in between them, until a rash encounter with Ed sends her back into Hugh’s arms—and causes Ed to cut off contact with the pair. Years later, Hugh and Helen’s daughter, Vivi, befriends Ed’s daughter, Rebecca, at boarding school, bringing the three adults together once again. Sharply observed and masterfully constructed, Hershon’s (The German Bride, 2009) fourth novel is her strongest yet, a deft and assured examination of ambition, envy, longing, and kinship. --Kristine Huntley --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.See all Editorial Reviews
Just an excellent story that kept teasing me to go on to the next page. Highly recommend
Good kindle price
Very nice story, well paced and entertaining. Worth the read. Good enough for a book club discussion.Published 4 months ago by Anita
The book was all about relationships and I would have liked more in the way of a plot.Published 4 months ago by bcoulter
It was long, it was rambling. I'm still not sure what it was about. I did like the way she rendered the characters and I did finish the book but I'm not sure what the purpose of... Read morePublished 8 months ago by Susan
Quite a long book, but engrossing. I enjoyed it very much, and was struck by the way the author would, a couple of times, start a new phase without identifying one or more of the... Read morePublished 14 months ago by Gloria W. Kress
In some ways this is an old fashioned novel, an immersive generational saga with a rich social atmosphere and a cast of fascinating, appealing characters. Read morePublished 14 months ago by T. Weed
I loaded this book on my Kindle for a recent trip, and it was a disappointment. My biggest problem with the book is Hershon's rambling prose. Read morePublished 15 months ago by L. Seale
Joanna Hershon's A Dual Inheritance is an amazing literary accomplishment. Epic in many respects. Memorable, fun to read, thoughtful. Well worth reading!Published 16 months ago by Catherine Dail