Sunday, February 15, 2009

Matrimony Satisfies ... With A Little Time and Patience

It's not going to surprise you to learn that Joshua Henkin's Matrimony is about marriage (the

title kind of gives it away), but it's really about one marriage. It concerns the relationship between two average people - Julian Wainwright and Mia Mendelsohn. It's about the things that bring them together, the things that tear them apart, and those every day annoyances that "a person learned to love" (282). It touches on grief, infidelity, sacrifice, fear - but mostly it's about holding on and enduring the lows to reach the highs that are a part of every marriage.

The story begins in 1986, when Julian starts his freshman year at Graymont College in Massachusetts. With plenty of family money shoring up his bank account, he's not worried about finding a career path to wealth - he simply wants to write. Praise from his curmudgeonly writing professor shows he has promise, although he lacks the natural ability of his classmate, Carter Heinz. Although Carter is pretty much Julian's opposite - he's a penniless Californian who "wore a look of aloofness and superiority, which attracted Julian, who was hoping to appear aloof and superior himself" (11) - the two become fast friends. Julian is envious of Carter's skill; Carter resents Julian's privileged East Coast upbringing; but the two manage to get along. Enter Mia Mendelsohn, a pretty coed from Montreal. Julian falls hard while Carter woos high-class Pilar - the four hang out, skinnydipping in the hot tub, smoking weed, and getting through school.

Propelled by a family tragedy, Julian and Mia tie the knot after dating for several years. As Mia pursues a graduate degree, and Julian continues to hack away at his novel, the couple move from college town to college town. Their lives are happy, although filled with the usual challenges and frustrations. About halfway through the novel, Julian hears a startling confession that forces him to move out, abandoning Mia and their marriage. Although the two reunite, it doesn't happen overnight or without some bumpy years. Even with their relationship back on track, though, life treats the couple roughly - Julian's still trying to prove himself as a writer; Mia's frantic about her health; and everyone around them has their own difficulties. The book does end on a hopeful note, implying that matrimony, in all its grime and glory, is still worth the effort.

Matrimony struck several chords with me, allowing me to connect with the book in a way I don't know if I would have otherwise. For one, I felt a kinship with Julian - he's a nice guy who finds his soulmate during his happy college years, making him forever nostalgic about good ole Graymont. I look similarly on my own student days, which brought good times (not of the pot and skinnydipping variety, but still ...) and a happy marriage. I also felt for Julian as a writer, one who never feels quite worthy or successful. If I hadn't formed such a connection with him, I don't know how compelling I would have found this novel. It's well-written, to be sure, but its prose and plot are decidedly languid. Although one reviewer described it as "truly an up-all-night read," (The Washington Post), I found it lacked the kind of pacing that made me want to devour it in one sitting. Not that that's a bad thing - this story is more of the slow, savory type - but not all readers are going to be willing to stick around and savor. For those who value character over plot, Matrimony should please. Characters rule here, and they are complex, fascinating beings, the real driving force behind the story. I did find the cast to be rather a depressing lot, not people I would seek out IRL, but that doesn't mean their stories aren't compelling. In general, I prefer more upbeat, less depressing novels, so this one falls into the like-but-not-love category. It is well-written and I recommend Matrimony for those readers who would rather savor a story than scarf one down without bothering to taste it. It's a novel that satisfies, but requires a little time and patience - not unlike marriage itself.

Grade: B

15 comments:

  1. I love character based books. I will give this one a try.

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  2. Charlotte - Be sure to toss your name in the hat for a chance to win it. I don't know if you would like the book or not, but if you're interested, you might be able to get it for free!

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  3. I won this in one of the many contests awhile back. I haven't had a chance to read it yet. I've heard that it's pretty slow-going. Thanks for the honest review.

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

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  4. I liked this. I hadn't read a character driven novel for a while so it was a nice change. Slow and steady it was.

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  5. I've posted this on Win A Book.

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  6. Sounds good, I'd like to be included! tWarner419@aol.com

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  7. I like character studies in books and movies.


    You may like to check out 2 books:
    go to: benedicthome.blogspot.com

    The author is giving them away this week!

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  8. I would love to read this! THanks for the review! ~ :)

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  9. wow there are so many great reviews about this book all over the web! would love to win it!!

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  10. Matrimony is a very nice book. I want to buy it one of these days.

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  11. Please include me in your drawing.
    Thanks
    Debbie
    Debdesk9@verizon.net

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  12. If this isn't over please include me in your drawing

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  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

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