So many books have been written about friendships, particularly among those from disparate backgrounds. There's something so intriguing about two people who might not ordinarily even have known each other being drawn into a lifelong friendship. Such a friendship is at the core of Joanna Hershon's well-written A Dual Inheritance, but with an interesting twistthe friendship actually ends midway through the book, although the ripples of that relationship and its demise continue to be felt throughout the remainder of the story.
Brash, self-deprecating Ed Cantowitz, a child of the middle-class suburb of Dorchester, Massachusetts, meets Hugh Shipley, the privileged heir to generations of Boston Brahmins, in their senior year at Harvard in 1962. Although they come from different backgrounds and have different views of the world, Hugh doesn't dwell on their differences, although Ed is fixated on them. Ed is driven to make a name for himself in the financial world, while Hugh seems more than content to avoid all responsibilities that await him, as he would rather travel to Africa and be a photographer. Even Hugh's relationship with Helen, although he loves her very much, doesn't fuel him with the fire to act.
As Ed pursues his financial career with unbridled zeal, Hugh travels first to Ethiopia, where he works on a film crew, and then to Morocco, where he begins to become a global humanitarian, using his family's fortunes to set up health clinics. And while the two continue to have little in common, their friendship flourishesuntil one moment when everything changes and their relationship ends, for reasons only one of them understands.
This is a sprawling book that switches between Ed and Hugh's perspectives, as well as those of other characters. It spans a period of time from Ed and Hugh's first meeting to an encounter in 2010, and follows the characters across the globe, through times of great success and happiness as well as times of despair. It's a tremendously compelling story in spite of the fact that I never really cared that much for the characters, especially Ed, as I felt so much of his personality was abrasive, although as the book unfolded, you understand much of what fuels him.
How are we shaped by our friendships? Do they continue to affect us even once they've ended? Joanna Hershon does a terrific job in exploring these questions, creating complex (and flawed) characters and a narrative that never loses your attention, and may even move you. (It did me.)