Thursday, June 28, 2012

Book Review: "The World Without You" by Joshua Henkin

It's July 4, 2005, exactly one year after Leo Frankel, a newspaper reporter, was killed after being captured while covering the war in Iraq. His family and friends are traveling from across the world to gather in the Berkshires for a memorial service, since his funeral had been such a public spectacle. But as if the stress and grief associated with commemorating Leo's loss isn't enough, each of his family members has their own problems to deal with, as well as their relationships with each other.

His parents, David and Marilyn, have each dealt with their grief differently—Marilyn has become an outspoken critic of the war and President Bush, while David has become more introspective, preferring opera and biographies to confronting his wife's anger. And this is causing their 40-year marriage to dissolve. Leo's oldest sister, Clarissa, is struggling to become pregnant at age 39, which is wreaking havoc on her relationship with her husband, Nathan. Lily is dealing with an inability to effectively deal with her grief and anger, and doesn't want to have to depend on anyone for help, not even her boyfriend of 10 years. And Noelle went from a youth spent mired in promiscuity to a life in Israel, where she and her husband, Amram, are Orthodox Jews raising four boys. Leo's widow, Thisbe, also flies in from California with their three-year-old son, Calder, and she is dealing with secrets of her own, as well as the struggle to keep Calder from forgetting a father he barely knew. As the family gathers, they deal with their own issues and rehash old hurts, and wonder where the future will find them.

When I read Joshua Henkin's novel Matrimony a few years ago, I fell in love with it completely, and I couldn't wait for him to write another book. The World Without You hooked me immediately, and if it wasn't for the obligations of work, exercise, and sleep, I would have finished the book in a day or two. Yes, this is a familiar story of family frictions and relationship issues, but the characters Henkin creates, and his terrific storytelling ability, raises the book several notches above your typical family drama. This book deals with questions of family, loss, communication, trust, dependency, anger, and need, and it does so quite skillfully. I don't want to have to wait another few years for Joshua Henkin's next book, but since he's such a great writer, I know it will be worth the wait! (That being said, I just ordered his first novel, Swimming Across the Hudson, off of Amazon.)

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