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Hello, my name is Valorie. I have a Master's Degree in History and a license to teach-- I have been both university professor and public school teacher. Currently, I am a middle school social studies teacher. I love horror movies and spooky things. Every day is Halloween. I am also a passionate book blogger.

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Book Review: 23:27 by H.L. Roberts

Friday, February 20, 2009

Book Review: Matrimony by Joshua Henkin

Title: Matrimony
Author: Joshua Henkin
Genre: Fiction - General
Finished: February 19, 2009

Matrimony by Joshua Henkin is a novel about people, relationships, and life. The book follows the life of Julian Wainwright, his wife Mia, and a select few of their friends. We first meet the characters in college and follow along as they grow, mature, and face the new challenges of life that inevitably come their way. ThereĆ¢€™s betrayal, love, friendship, and just simply growing up. This book was different from what I normally read, though. It was not a nonfiction book about some historical event or person. There were no vampires, no supernatural forces doing battle, and no complex theories of magic and mysticism. Matrimony is quite simply about people. When I got the book and looked at the quaint and relatively unadorned cover, I gave an audible, "Hm." I wondered if this sort of book would be the right fit for me. Julian begins the story in college, studying to be a writer. He wants to write that great American novel and escape the corporate expectations of his rich family. He and his friend Carter are the stars of the class. The two of them develop a strong friendship and bond even after they meet the women of their dreams. Julian falls in love with a young woman named Mia. After graduating college, the two of them marry, propelled to push their life together forward faster when Mia's mother comes down with breast cancer. Life takes over and people move apart-- Carter moves away to California and Julian and Mia are left to decide what to do with their future. Julian begins his novel and finds it a harder task than he imaged. Mia has to cope with the death of her mother while getting her graduate degree, her interest in psychiatry peaked after she goes to therapy herself. After this, it's just life. Couples talk of kids, divorce, and what middle age means. Friendships are severed and people grow apart, but in the end the characters find that they are in the very same place as they have always been, only stronger for what they have been through. 

Most of what we see comes through the eyes and experiences of Julian and he becomes an easy to relate to figure because of this. I found that because he was the most central character, he was the one I sympathized with the most. When bad things happened, I was on Julian's side. When he was betrayed by Carter and Mia, I felt wounded in my stomach as if I were him. One thing that I especially liked about the book is how it approached the nature of friendship and how we form and keep strong bonds with other people. For example, Julian and Carter were great friends, but not entirely loyal to one another. People are not perfect and even good people who sincerely care about each other are capable of doing things that are hurtful. Matrimony shows how people cope with betrayal and how friendships can survive very devastating obstacles. No matter how good or fun a friend Carter is, he is always kept back by the fact that he envies Julian. To Carter, everything Julian has is somehow better than what he has; Mia experiences this too through the eyes of her sister Olivia, who fails to see or find her own self worth because she is hung up on how much better Mia supposedly has always had it. Whether Carter or Olivia both have cause for feeling as they do, they do. Henkin doesn't make her characters perfect. I get annoyed very quickly by characters that are created just to be infallible and without any fault whatsoever. Julian is never quite sure enough of himself, Mia has a coldness about her that is hard to accept, and Carter is envious by nature and compensates for what he sees as imperfections in himself. 

Of course, there are moments of long contemplation, especially from Mia, that sort of drag on. In reality, I doubt many people are so introspective. It isn't insincere or unrealistic, though, for Mia to be this way; I've spent enough time within the walls and atmosphere of a university to know that graduate students really ARE that long winded and pseudo-philosophical-- sometimes exhaustibly so. Mi's transcendent self-speeches were a bit haughty and pretentious like she is trying too hard and doesn't even realize it, but that is just the way that some people are. I guess there was really no way for her not to be since her parents were strong liberal advocates. They probably had protest signs stored in their closet for the next opportunity to protest inequality or unfairness of some sort. That brings me to another point. Even though Mia's parents were liberal and modern minded, it was odd and almost hypocritical that her mother had to give her up her dreams and her career to be a mother. Wouldn't that sort of thing be the very thing her parents would reject for being part of the norm? The traditional way of doing things that kept people down? You see? Matrimony doesn't try to create perfect people and situations. People are just who they are. By the end of the book, you will feel as if you "know" the characters intimately. You've been through all of their trials and tribulations and survived them, too. It is really impressive the way that Henkin delivers such a character driven book that doesn't need exaggerated drama or passion to keep it interesting. Henkin has an admirable ability to describe people's thoughts and actions in a relatable way. He certainly has a way with words and description. This is a great book. If you like the 'slice of life' type of book, you'll enjoy this one. And hey, even if you're like me and have only just begun to explore this sort of story, you may still enjoy it. I certainly did. In case you haven't noticed, I am currently holding a contest to win a copy of Joshua Henkin's Matrimony.

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