matrimony book 88 224.
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By Joshua Henkin
304 Pages; $23.95
Joshua Henkin's second novel, Matrimony, begins in 1986 in Graymont College, in western Massachusetts. Julian Wainwright is a freshman who chose Graymont because he wants to write and the school offers a fiction writing class taught by Professor Stephen Chesterfield.
Julian meets Carter Heinz in the class and they become fast friends even though they are very different. Julian comes from a wealthy New York WASP family and Carter from a poor California family. They each acquire girlfriends: Pilar for Carter and Mia Mendelsohn, a Jew from Montreal, for Julian. The relationships flower into marriage.
Pilar and Carter move to the West Coast after graduation to attend law school, and Mia and Julian go to Ann Arbor where she is a graduate student in psychology and he works on his novel. Their "mixed marriage" is not only one of Jew and gentile but also of scholar and non-academic, a sometimes lethal relationship filled with mutual ignorance and mistaken assumptions.
Tensions beset both marriages. Pilar and Carter get a divorce and Julian and Mia separate. The scene shifts to Iowa City where Julian has enrolled in the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.
Eventually, Julian returns to Ann Arbor and is reunited with Mia.
After she graduates, they settle in New York where she opens a private practice as a therapist and works in a clinic treating people with post-traumatic stress disorders, including a number of Ground Zero workers.
The story ambles on, bringing in the parents of both Mia and Julian, Mia's sister and Mia's fear of cancer. It more or less ends in 2005 when Julian and Mia attend the 15th reunion of their graduation from Graymont.
The Jewish references are minimal. Mia's concern about cancer involves a brief discussion of the "Ashkenazi Jewish breast cancer gene" and there is one scene in which Mia and her father light a yahrzeit candle on the anniversary of her mother's death. Mention is made of her strict observance for a year when she was 12 and her disenchantment with Hillel at Graymont.
Although the story does indeed meander both in time and place, it offers sympathetic understanding of human frailties. Its lack of resolution actually gives the book wholehearted credibility.
Like in his first novel, Swimming across the Hudson, Matrimony reveals a gentle writing style, a tangled web of human relationships, a sensitive exploration of family relationships and a poignant authenticity.
The writer is the founding dean, Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University and dean emeritus, School of Social Work, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.