From the author of the New York Times Notable Book Matrimony ["Beautiful . . . Brilliant."—Michael Cunningham], a moving, mesmerizing new novel about love, loss, and the aftermath of a family tragedy.
It’s July 4, 2005, and the Frankel family is descending upon their beloved summer home in the Berkshires. But this is no ordinary holiday. The family has gathered to memorialize Leo, the youngest of the four siblings, an intrepid journalist and adventurer who was killed on that day in 2004, while on assignment in Iraq.
The parents, Marilyn and David, are adrift in grief. Their forty-year marriage is falling apart. Clarissa, the eldest sibling and a former cello prodigy, has settled into an ambivalent domesticity and is struggling at age thirty-nine to become pregnant. Lily, a fiery-tempered lawyer and the family contrarian, is angry at everyone. And Noelle, whose teenage years were shadowed by promiscuity and school expulsions, has moved to Jerusalem and become a born-again Orthodox Jew. The last person to see Leo alive, Noelle has flown back for the memorial with her husband and four children, but she feels entirely out of place. And Thisbe —Leo’s widow and mother of their three-year-old son—has come from California bearing her own secret.
Set against the backdrop of Independence Day and the Iraq War, The World Without You is a novel about sibling rivalries and marital feuds, about volatile women and silent men, and, ultimately, about the true meaning of family.
About Joshua Henkin
JOSHUA HENKIN is the author of the novels Swimming Across the Hudson (a Los Angeles Times Notable Book) and Matrimony (a New York Times Notable Book). His stories have been published widely, cited for distinction in Best American Short Stories and broadcast on NPR’s Selected Shorts. He directs the MFA Program in Fiction Writing at Brooklyn College.
When conventionalists claim, “They don’t write novels like that anymore,” this is the sort of novel they mean. Yet the very familiarity and durability of the setup suggests that the traditional novel remains very much alive and healthy as well, if the narrative momentum and depth of character here are proof of vitality. As suggested by his previous novel, the generically titled Matrimony (2007), Henkin isn’t the type to offer literary surprises. The novel transpires over a holiday weekend, which sees an extended family reuniting to mark the first anniversary of the death of the beloved son, a journalist killed in Iraq. As you’d expect, someone will say things that have previously been left unsaid. Someone will come to terms with the past in a way that puts the future in fresh perspective. Each member of the family will have a heart-to-heart conversation with every other one. By the end of the weekend, things will have changed. The particulars: The son’s death has proven so difficult for his mother to overcome that she wants to divorce her husband (who has been mourning in a different way). The oldest daughter and her husband, a celebrated academic, have a “workmanlike marriage,” though her brother’s death makes her want what she previously didn’t, to have children. The second daughter has been with her partner for more than a decade and seems more fulfilled than her married sisters. The youngest daughter now lives in Israel as an Orthodox Jew with her recently unemployed husband, though her promiscuity had made her a scandal in her formative years. The son’s widow has fallen in love. A very rich grandmother hovers over the plot. Which relationships will endure, which will collapse, and which will change over the course of a long weekend? – Kirkus Reviews
A Broken Family Navigates ‘The World Without You’
NPR Book Review – June 27, 2012 (Excerpt)
Joshua Henkin opens his third novel with a dramatic setup. Leo Frankel has been killed while reporting from Iraq forNewsday. He waskidnapped and videotaped in a way reminiscent of how American journalist Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter, was killed in Pakistan in 2002. Over the past decade, dozens of newspeople have been killed each year in war zones, making this a timely subject for fiction. But Henkin places Leo’s dramatic death offstage, telling it in sketchy snippets. His focus is on the ripple effects of the aftermath of Leo’s death on his intimate family circle — his grandmother, parents, three sisters and in-laws, his widow and 3-year-old son.
Henkin showed a fascination with the domestic in his earlier novels. His first, Swimming Across the Hudson (1997), explores the shock to the narrator, who was raised an Orthodox Jew on the Upper West Side, when he is contacted by his San Francisco-based birth mother. Matrimony (2007) follows a couple of campus sweethearts through 20 years of marriage, including graduate school, multiple moves and a bout of infidelity.
In The World Without You, Henkin expands his scope to a chorus of narrators from multiple generations and compresses his action into a few days — three days over a stormy July 4 holiday one year after Leo’s death, with a planned memorial service and grave unveiling. [Read the full article...]
Book World: Joshua Henkin’s ‘The World Without You,’ reviewed by Wendy Smith
The Washington Post Book Review – July 12, 2012 (Excerpt)
As anyone who’s spent an uncomfortable weekend with relatives knows, a few days are more than enough to recapitulate decades of familial resentments. And a Fourth of July holiday in 2005 holds the potential for greater conflict than usual in Joshua Henkin’s new novel, “The World Without You.” Four generations convene at Marilyn and David Frankel’s western Massachusetts summer house to observe the one-year anniversary of their son Leo’s death. A journalist, Leo was abducted and murdered in Iraq. His mother publicly refused President Bush’s invitation to the White House and has spent the subsequent year writing angry op-ed pieces about the war. She’s also angry at gentle David for “trying to make the best of an unspeakable situation.” As the novel begins, we learn that she is leaving him after 42 years of marriage.
Their three daughters and Leo’s widow don’t yet know about the separation, but each is toting plenty of baggage to the Berkshires in addition to her suitcases. Thisbe, flying in from California with Leo’s son, is reluctant to tell her in-laws that she has a new boyfriend. Eldest sibling Clarissa is so desperate to get pregnant that she and her husband stop at a hotel en route from Brooklyn to have joyless sex (because she’s ovulating). Lily, driving up from Washington, is stuck picking up her sister Noelle at the Boston airport. These two younger sisters have never liked each other, and Lily is openly contemptuous of Noelle’s embrace of Orthodox Judaism as “just another installment in [her] random life.” Lily isn’t the only member of this liberal, assimilated family bemused by Noelle’s transformation from a wild teenager into a Jerusalem housewife who twice voted for Bush. [Read the full article...]
Son, Brother, Husband - ‘The World Without You,’ by Joshua Henkin
The New York Times Book Review – October 26, 2012 (Excerpt)
Grief can be a divisive force, especially within families. Sorrow can’t really be shared, as Joshua Henkin illustrates in his insightful third novel, “The World Without You.” The book opens a year after the death of Leo Frankel, a Daniel Pearl-like journalist killed on assignment in Iraq, as his family gathers at their summer home in the Berkshires for a memorial. On their first night together, his mother drops a bomb. “I’m leaving Daddy,” she announces at the dinner table. It’s a characteristically blunt declaration from Marilyn, a woman who has dedicated the past year to writing op-ed articles against the war, partly to ensure that Leo’s story remain in the public consciousness as it is always foremost in her own. Her husband, David, is no comfort, mostly because she doesn’t want to be comforted. She’s convinced that her grief is a cloud from which she will never emerge.
To explain why they’re separating, Marilyn shares an anecdote. At a party, when a stranger asked the couple how many children they had, David immediately answered three, while she said four. To her, this proves their incompatibility. A year after Leo’s death, Marilyn views the signs of anyone moving on as a betrayal. [Read the full article...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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