Saturday, July 28, 2012

Book Review: "Swimming across the Hudson" by Joshua Henkin

Ben and Jonathan Suskind are brothers born to different birth mothers, who were adopted by Orthodox Jewish parents and raised in a childhood punctuated by religion and scholarship. Separated by only a few months, they were nearly inseparable as children, attending the same schools, playing on the same sports teams, even going on double dates together. Both went to Yale, but as Jonathan pursued a career in medicine and came out of the closet, Ben felt fairly rudderless. He followed Jonathan to San Francisco, and Jonathan became a geriatric physician and had a solid long-term relationship with his boyfriend, Sandy, while Ben was unsure about many things, including his career prospects, his religiousness (he stopped being observant of Jewish customs after high school), and his relationship with his girlfriend, Jenny, and her preteen daughter, Tara.

When one day Ben receives a letter from his birth mother, asking if he'd be willing to meet her, it completely throws him for a loop. He encourages Jonathan to search for his birth parents as well so they can share the anxiety of this experience, but Jonathan refuses. As Ben begins a relationship with his natural mother, it leads to fractures in his relationship with Jenny, an unsettling disclosure from his parents, and a general uncertainty about his future. And it causes Ben to take actions he immediately regrets.

Joshua Henkin is a terrific storyteller, and having read both his newest book, the magnificent The World Without You, and his earlier book, the equally superlative Matrimony, it was interesting to read this, his first novel. While I found Ben to be a frustrating and unsympathetic character from time to time, Henkin helps you understand the motivations behind his actions. This is a book about family, identity, religion, relationships, and coping with life's uncertainty. Once again, Joshua Henkin has made me a fan.

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