Matrimony by Joshua Henkin is a calm, quiet novel without a lot of flash or fuss. It’s strength lies in the writing.
**WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK!!
What is this book about? Well.. hmmm. Matrimony is about marriage, sort of. It’s more about friendship, college life, and writers.
Two guys- Julian, who is rich, and Carter, at Graymont College thanks to a scholarship- are the most talented students in a writing workshop and soon become best friends, although money is always an issue between them. Carter has a bit of a chip on his shoulder and seems to resent Julian for his family’s wealth. But they remain friends and move through their college years together, each finding love (first Carter with Pilar, then Julian with “Mia from Montreal” who the friends first discovered in the school’s facebook).
The story centers on Mia and Julian, who are serious from the start. In their senior year, Mia’s mom is diagnosed with cancer. She asks Julian to marry her so that her mother can attend the wedding before she dies. I really wanted to attend the wedding too, but the reader doesn’t get to be there. It is skipped right over, which I found odd considering the title, Matrimony! We do hear a little bit about it later in the book, thankfully. Carter and Pilar get married too, but the reader finds out after the fact and the wedding is not written about.
One thing this author does very, very well is write about grief. The scenes with Mia and her mom are poignant, touching, and raw but not melodramatic. We feel Mia’s suffering acutely.
The novel picks up three years after the wedding in Ann Arbor, where Mia is in grad school to become a psychotherapist. Julian is teaching and working on his novel (and will be for years) and feels he doesn’t quite fit in with Mia and her friends, all students. On the occasion of his graduation from law school, Julian visits his old friend Carter in California, where he learns he and Pilar have separated. A long buried secret is revealed which threatens their friendship and Julian’s marriage.
I felt like this secret needed to be discussed, but Mia and Julian shut down and many things are left unsaid, which I suppose happens a lot in long term relationships. But I wanted there to be more emotion, more talking-yelling-negotiation-FEELING than what was there. I also felt that in a real marriage, this sort of 9 year old secret, after years of a seemingly good marriage, could have been forgiven. Marriage is about compromise, isn’t it? But Mia and Julian separate with almost no discussion about it, and when Julian returns 18 months later, there is very little discussion about that either.
Matrimony is well written, honest and appealing. We follow Mia and Julian through nearly two decades. We watch them grow and mature, and witness their love, laughter, families, friendships, sadness, grief and anger, in other words- their marriage. So I guess Matrimony IS about marriage after all.
Joshua Henkin frequently makes himself available for author chats with book clubs. His website can be found HERE
For a chance to win a copy of Matrimony, see author Josh Henkin’s guest post HERE and leave a comment by May 15th.
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