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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Matrimony: A Novel

Julian Wainwright, the main character of Joshua Henkin's Matrimony, finds out what most of us who have been around for a few decades learned for ourselves: life is what happens to you while you are making plans and dreaming about your future. One thing leads to another and, before a person realizes it, all that dreaming and planning for the perfect life may bear very little resemblance to the life into which he has grown. Sometimes that is a good thing, sometimes not.

Matrimony is a finely told story about long term relationships, some that survive against all odds, and others that fail with little warning after years of having seemed to be strong ones. Henkin begins his story at Graymont College where four freshmen students will meet and form bonds that will shape their adult lives. They are Julian Wainwright, only son of a wealthy New York City couple who chooses Graymont exclusively because of its highly rated “Fiction Writing Workshop,” and Mia Mendelsohn, the beautiful Jewish girl from Montreal with whom he falls in love almost immediately. And they are Carter Heinz, a poor boy from California whose schooling has depended on scholarships as long as he can remember, and his girlfriend, Pilar, the daughter of attorneys who wants nothing more than to become one herself.

Joshua Henkin takes what starts as two freshmen flings and follows those complicated relationships over most of the next two decades. We watch Julian struggle to become the writer he has so long dreamed of being while following Mia from one college town to the next as she continues her studies. We find that, despite their great friendship, Carter cannot control his envy of Julian’s wealth even when it threatens to end their friendship forever.

Matrimony does not use spectacular events to make its point about the nature of marriage. Rather, the author lets time sneak up on the two couples in ways that we all have experienced. Time passes, the honeymoon ends and real married life begins. The couples experience doubts about themselves and their spouses and must decide whether or not the rewards of a long term relationship compensate for its inherent downsides. They are confronted with issues of mortality and must make difficult choices for themselves and their parents.

Henkin offers few surprises about love or marriage but he tells his story in an Everyman kind of way that makes it memorable. I found myself wondering what will happen to Julian and Mia over their next three decades and wishing that Henkin had carried on for another two or three hundred pages.

Rated at: 4.0

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