Customer Reviews: Matrimony: A Novel (Vintage Contemporaries)
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on September 24, 2007
Matrimony is a moving portrait of a marriage that is tested through the years by jealousy, loss, and betrayal. The story follows Mia and Julian, who meet in college and tie the knot soon after graduation. As they make their way from New England college town to Midwestern college town and finally to New York, they discover that long-dormant secrets and old rivalries can tear into the fabric that holds a marriage together.

Henkin's straightforward, reserved prose strikes just the right tone, so that the story is touching, but never maudlin. He has a witty take on the singular world of writing workshops and the writer's struggle to create. Henkin also deftly tackles issues of class and family history, how those things can shape our lives and sometimes haunt us. A deeply felt story and an excellent read.
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on November 15, 2007
Matrimony is well written but the characters don't ring true. I almost gave up after a few chapters because the college kids' conversations seemed more suited to thirty-year-olds. Would 19 year olds Julian and Carter REALLY have been that inspired by John Cheever's work in 1987? Wouldn't more likely influences have been Raymond Carver, John Irving, Jay McInerney, or Brett Easton Ellis? I thought when the characters did get older in this book I would be more interested but it's just a mostly dreary account of the ups and downs of an ordinary marriage. The reason the two separate after many years of marriage seems split up with a girlfriend or boyfriend over something like that, not your wife of six years or whatever it was. John Irving wrote a classic, much more memorable treatment of a would-be novelist and his academic wife in The World According to Garp almost thirty years ago, which I would recommend over this.
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on September 3, 2007
Matrimony is the first novel I've read in quite a while, and it reminded me of why I can't subsist on a nonfiction-only diet. Like all great novelists, Joshua Henkin casts a spell that doesn't wear off until long after you've finished the book. There are no gimmicks here, no attempts to dazzle and distract with flashy prose. Instead, you'll find the beautifully crafted and heartbreakingly realistic story of a young writer, Julian Wainwright, trying to negotiate art and life. In telling Wainwright's story, from college into middle age, Henkin also tells much larger stories about love and betrayal and about how our class backgrounds often define us in spite of ourselves. For anyone interested in writing, this novel also comes with a nice bonus. Henkin is a creative writing professor and in his account of the ups and downs of Wainwright's literary journey, he's slipped in a good deal of wisdom on how to write well.
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VINE VOICEon November 11, 2007
In this book, Henkin deliberately steers away from dramatic effects and literary pyrotechnics. This is a quiet book in which few voices are raised even at moments where the reader would expect intensity of feeling. Julian and Mia, his central characters, navigate through life's difficulties as well as they know how. They cope with the hands that they are dealt - Julian's aloof investment-banker father, Mia's mother's death from breast cancer - mostly by hesitantly talking things through. In a key scene, when Mia reluctantly confesses to Julian an earlier infidelity, they simply talk. No dramatics here: In fact, Henkin writes, "There was so much more to say, but he had no idea what to tell her, and it seemed as likely that they'd spend the whole day locked in their bedroom in silence."

But in his quiet way, Henkin builds his characters slowly and incrementally, letting them speak for themselves and permitting them to develop over the course of nearly two decades of life. Julian and Mia become real people that the reader begins to know well as they grow naturally from a college-dorm infatuation to a certain mid-thirties maturity. In a way, Henkin has made a more audacious choice in permitting his novel to proceed in this fashion rather than in a noisier manner. Henkin is writing a novel that is at least in part a novel about how to write a novel, and Julian, plagued by writer's block, seems to an extent a stand-in for the author. In crafting this novel, Henkin is implicitly showing us the choices Julian has made. He successfully avoids the trap of boring his readers with countless domestic specifics; instead, those same details of clothing, popular tunes, dormitory furnishings, and the like serve to make Julian and Mia more credible.
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on October 15, 2007
Josh Henkin has created art -a beautiful mosaic of brokenness that has resulted from tragedies, human weakness, and the every day life (changes, family conflicts and losses, betrayals, and successes)of the wonderfully flawed and likeable characters,cemented together by a deep abiding love between the protagonists, Mia and Julian. "Matrimony" is realism at its best, rich in wry wit and strong emotion. Henkin's masterful command of language brings laughter, smiles, frustration, and perhaps tears to the reader. Without reservation, 5 stars.
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on July 20, 2009
literally just finished reading Joshua Henkin's second novel Matrimony which greatly disappointed me. After reading plenty of reviews saying that this was such a phenomenal read I was left trying to figure out if I had read the same book as everyone else.

The story follows Julian Wainwright, who happens to be an aspiring author, through his college years and life after he has married Mia, his college sweetheart. The entire story reeked of auto-biography to me, which Henkin admits on his website he did write a few details that could be seen that way, but mainly I absolutely loathed the two main characters. Both Julian and Mia came across as self-absorbed and aloof, two qualities I don't particularly admire.

Another problem I had was that there was a lot of discussion between Julian and his best friend, Carter, about what makes a good short story or novel. To me this seemed to hurt Henkin in the end because I felt like he was doing things that his own characters say not to do.... it left me confused.
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on October 15, 2007
If you are not currently in a book club Joshua Henkin's much anticipated second novel Matrimony is the reason to start one! Henkins ability to make the reader feel as though they are in the moment along with the characters is what makes Matrimony a story that will resonate with you long after the book is back on the shelf. I didn't want to say goodbye to Mia and Juilian, and as the weight of the pages shifted, and I could see the conclusion out of the corner of my right eye I found myself reading more slowly in order to savor every moment. Upon completion I felt the need to share the experience with everyone, I will have to buy a second copy to lend out to friends, this one is mine to treasure.
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on March 10, 2014
Anyone besides me hate anachronisms? College is late 80s, right? what's wrong with this paragraph:

Then Mia was going to the library, too, where she looked up breast cancer in the medical encyclopedia and typed “cancer” and “breast” into the computers. There was “bilateral breast cancer” and “osseous metastatic spread” and “malignant neoplasm” and “histologic subtypes” and “suboptimally debulked disease” and “electrophoresis” and “neoadjuvant chemotherapy” and “thrombocytopenia” and “tumor cell necrosis” and “erythrocyte count” and “lymphadenopathy.” She had no idea what these terms meant, couldn’t figure out whom these articles were intended for, certainly not for people like her...

Where did she find a search engine? people were still on modems to connect to the internet.

And the description describes the story during the "height of the Reagan era and ending in the new millennium," This is the least political novel I have ever read about college.

The characters are insipid.
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on September 10, 2007
Matrimony is the kind of novel you can hardly find any more. It's funny and sharp and entertaining, but it's also patient. In Henkin's work (his other book, Swimming Across the Hudson, is extraordinary, too), every moment builds on the last, every character emerges detail by detail, so that as you read, you can't help but be completely invested in what happens. Matrimony is written with great heart and unflinching compassion. It's hilarious and wise. It's the perfect book to read if you happen to be a human being.
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VINE VOICEon February 11, 2008
Sound advice to novelists, right? Yes, but to a point. Reading MATRIMONY, one gets the feeling author Joshua Henkin tried to abide by that advice but misapplied it somewhat. To wit, the novel seems an amalgamation of life experiences and observations that he might have jotted in a notebook and then sorted into a mild odyssey of a young man's life from beginning college to his first published novel and first child just about twenty years later.

MATRIMONY'S Julian Wainwright sets his sights on a novelist's career when, at thirteen, he meets John Cheever. He comes from money and privilege, but wants to carve out his own space in the world. At an "alternative" school, Graymont College in Massachusetts, he studies writing with Professor Chesterfield, a man famous for writer's block after producing a single novel. One of the writing workshop's most talented members can only afford to be at Graymont thanks to a scholarship. He is Carter Heinz and becomes Julian's best friend. Soon he and Carter acquire steady girlfriends. Mia Mendelsohn, a Canadian, meets Julian in a laundry room, and they become inseparable. Before graduation, Mia's mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, and Mia decides she wants to marry Julian before her mother passes.

Newlyweds Julian and Mia move to Ann Arbor, Michigan where Mia pursues postgrad work to become a psychotherapist. Julian teaches some undergrad English classes and struggles with his novel. One year, Mia stays home to work on her doctoral dissertation while Julian boards a plane to witness Carter's graduation for Boalt Law School in Berkeley, California. Thanks to being a founder in computer software start-up, Carter is worth millions too by this time. But Carter's wife -- that girlfriend he dated steadily at Graymont -- and he have called it quits. As Carter and Julian catch up and reminisce, Carter lets an old secret slip. Julian feels as if an eighteen-wheeler has broadsided him. Suddenly his life seems a lie.

MATRIMONY is a study of a marriage that permits readers into both Julian's and Mia's perspectives. The question becomes whether they will follow Carter into divorce or will persevere as a couple. Mia discovers that she and her sister may both carry the Ashkenazi Jewish breast cancer genes, and the last quarter of the novel becomes almost a public service announcement instead of an study of marriage. In addition, a great deal of the book consists of Julian or Mia visiting friends and family; and this plotting flirts with tedium.

Henkin writes smoothly, earnestly, and appealingly. His characters are decent people who elicit sympathy and interest. Readers seeking fiction about marriage will not have wasted the hours they pass with this book. However, one can't avoid the feeling that the author has cobbled MATRIMONY together from a list of topics he wanted to address or with which he was simply familiar. The author perhaps too narrowly follows that advice about what a a writer should write. As such, this novel falls short of its potential; it's a good novel, but not a great one.
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