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Matrimony: A Novel (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – August 26, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
In 1987, Manhattan-reared hothouse flower Julian Wainwright matriculates at the alternative Graymont College for the express purposes of attending Professor Stephen Chesterfield's exclusive fiction writing workshop. As Chesterfield dryly infuses his writing wisdom, Julian befriends the cocky, aloof, lesser-born Carter Heinz when they are the only two to whom Chesterfield gives the nod. Carter soon meets Pilar in the cafeteria; Julian meets Mia in the laundry room. Carter's simmering class resentment of Julian surfaces. Senior year finds the two couples living next door to one another and plotting their futures. Henkin (Swimming Across the Hudson) subsequently follows the lovers for the next 15 years through countless college towns, family dramas, failed literary projects and the dot-com boom. Many scenes are too long, and never get below the surface of the cast, particularly wannabe-litterateur Julian. But for a book called Matrimony, Henkin offers surprisingly little about Julian and Mia's marriage, so when big confrontations do arrive, they quickly slide into melodrama. By then, lines like But I don't want to get my M.F.A. Can't you understand that? I've already been in enough writing workshops will have cleared the classroom. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From The New Yorker
Toward the end of Henkins second novel, Julian, who has just arrived at the Iowa Writers Workshop, finds that the other students do not like his work. "The story was quiet; all his work was," Henkin writes. "He had nothing against muscular prose; it was the flexing of those muscles that he objected to, and, along with it, a disregard for character." The passage encapsulates Henkins telling of the story of two couples who meet in college and quickly fall into domestic arrangements that they keep for years to come. On their path to middle age, momentous events occur, but Henkin gives equal space to the unmomentous, and everything is related in the same measured tone. Although the mundane sections tend to fall flat, when Henkin handles material with more inherent drama, like the sickness and death of one characters mother, his quiet approach pays off.
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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.
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.