16 reviews

Matrimony: A Novel
by Joshua Henkin

Published: 2008-08-26
Paperback : 304 pages
34 members reading this now
17 clubs reading this now
8 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 14 of 16 members
It's the fall of 1986, and Julian Wainwright, an aspiring writer, arrives at Graymont College in New England. Here he meets Carter Heinz, with whom he develops a strong but ambivalent friendship, and beautiful Mia Mendelsohn, with whom he falls in love. Spurred on by a family tragedy, ...
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From the moment he was born, Julian Wainwright has lived a life of Waspy privilege. The son of a Yale-educated investment banker, he grew up in a huge apartment on Sutton Place, high above the East River, and attended a tony Manhattan private school. Yet, more than anything, he wants to get out?out from under his parents? influence, off to Graymont College, in western Massachusetts, where he hopes to become a writer.

When he arrives, in the fall of 1986, Julian meets Carter Heinz, a scholarship student from California with whom he develops a strong but ambivalent friendship. Carter's mother, desperate to save money for his college education, used to buy him reversible clothing, figuring she was getting two items for the price of one. Now, spending time with Julian, Carter seethes with resentment. He swears he will grow up to be wealthy?wealthier, even, than Julian himself.

Then, one day, flipping through the college facebook, Julian and Carter see a photo of Mia Mendelsohn. Mia from Montreal, they call her. Beautiful, Jewish, the daughter of a physics professor at McGill, Mia is?Julian and Carter agree?dreamy, urbane, stylish, refined.

But Julian gets to Mia first, meeting her by chance in the college laundry room. Soon they begin a love affair that'spurred on by family tragedy?will carry them to graduation and beyond, taking them through several college towns, over the next ten years. Then Carter reappears, working for an Internet company in California, and he throws everyone's life into turmoil: Julian's, Mia's, his own.

Starting at the height of the Reagan era and ending in the new millennium, Matrimony is about love and friendship, about money and ambition, desire and tensions of faith. It asks what happens to a marriage when it is confronted by betrayal and the specter of mortality. What happens when people marry younger than they?d expected? Can love endure the passing of time?

In its emotional honesty, its luminous prose, its generosity and wry wit, Matrimony is a beautifully detailed portrait of what it means to share a life with someone?to do it when you?re young, and to try to do it afresh on the brink of middle age.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.


Julian saw her for the first time in the college laundry room. He hoped she didn’t notice that next to him, clearly in his possession, was a package of fabric softener. He had a book of stories by Ernest Hemingway, and he placed the book on top of the fabric softener, to balance the picture out. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the publisher:

1. Discuss the parent-child relationships in the novel. How much are the lives of Julian, Mia and Carter a rejection of their parents’ lives? Despite how much they try to get away from the patterns of their parents, are they successful?
Also consider Professor Chesterfield as a replacement father figure for Julian. What role does genetics play in the parent-child relationships? How does Mia (and others) run
from and then to that very idea?

2. In a book about a writer, what effect does the autobiographical component have on the story? Julian’s desire to be a writer is a catalyst that drives the narrative. What does the novel say about the writer’s life?

3. As Julian tried to comfort Mia when her mother was sick, Mia “felt her heart beat against him like something caged in, wings batting, slapping against themselves.” What
does this say about their relationship, and how is it reflected in their marriage?

4. Discuss the marriage of Julian and Mia. How do they complement each other (or not)?

5. How much is Julian’s life ruled by the following idea: “Julian already felt, moments after graduating from college, that he was letting people down”? Consider which of
Julian’s decisions are either passive or made in order to please others.

6. Consider the following two quotations about Mia: “She felt suddenly that they weren’t her friends, that despite all the time they’d spent together, they’d never really
cared about her.” “She felt desperate for him to know her better, felt a conviction that despite having been with her for three years, he didn’t apprehend her at all.” Are Mia’s
fears rational, or justified?

7. Mia and Julian were prompted to get married because of her mom’s cancer, and then Mia’s own cancer scare seems to push them into the decision to have children. Is this a good way to run a marriage? What is Henkin telling us about adult decisions and consequences?

8. Examine the trajectory of Carter and Pilar’s relationship. What does it say about them?

9. Discuss the relationship between Carter and Julian. What does each of them bring to the friendship, and how do they affect each other’s lives? Discuss the relationship
between Mia and Pilar. In what ways are both of these relationships competitive? How are they each rivals?

10. The novel is structured around place. What is the significance of the college town? How do the different locales affect the couples?

11. How does the stress of choosing schooling and careers affect the couples?

12. Issues of money come up between both of the couples. What does the novel tell us about the role of money in marriages and in society? What role does class play in the
characters’ relationships and careers?

13. At the end of the novel, Julian forgives Carter. Do you agree with his decision?

14. Compare and contrast all of the couples in the novel (married and not). In total, what does the novel tell us about matrimony?

15. Novels about relationships are usually the terrain of women, but Matrimony is written by a man. How much does the gender of the author influence the narrative?

16. What is the role or importance of religion with these couples? Mia is Jewish but only seems to grasp at it during crucial times.

17. How does divorce play into the novel? Do you think it’s traumatic for children no matter what age they are?

18. Discuss the infidelities in the novel. What role does betrayal play with these characters and in their marriages/relationships?

Suggested by Members

What did you think of Mia's reaction to meeting Carter again at the reunion?
Have you ever experienced a professor like Chesterfield?
by alantis (see profile) 06/18/10

Discuss Olivia and Mia's relationship. Why didn't Olivia visit her father after she moved to New York?
by KarenC (see profile) 05/02/10

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

A note from Josh to book clubs:

When I began to write Matrimony, I was thirty-three and living in Ann Arbor, where I had gone to graduate school; my first novel, Swimming Across the Hudson, had recently been published. I had also just met the woman I would eventually marry, and though our relationship would be long-distance for the first two years and we wouldn’t get married for several years after that, I knew from the start that this was the person I would spend my life with. And I sensed, in knowing this, that big changes lay ahead, changes I couldn’t yet comprehend.

I had also recently attended my tenth-year college reunion, and so I suppose I had reunions on the brain. When I started the novel, I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about. Hardly any novelist I know does; you just put your characters in a situation where something will happen, and you hope that over time you figure it out. I had this image of a couple attending their college reunion. That was all I knew—the beginning of the book. As it turns out, I didn’t know even that. Yes, there’s a college reunion in Matrimony, but it comes 250 pages and twenty years into the novel and it’s a relatively short scene.

Matrimony took me ten years to write, and I threw out literally thousands of pages. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was writing about the history of a marriage—what happens when a couple meet in college and end up marrying earlier than they expected and the ways that their choices (faithlessness, failed ambition, the decision whether to have a child) and things out of their control (health and sickness, the death of parent) test the endurance of their relationship.

Beyond that, I was writing about what it’s like to be in your twenties and thirties—even your forties, in some cases—when you’re waiting for your life to begin and you find to your surprise that it already has begun and that the decisions you make have consequences you’re not even aware of yet.

In the end, though Matrimony isn’t about my marriage, the process of writing it tracked my own marriage, and it’s hard to believe that that’s simply a coincidence. Like Julian, my protagonist, I’ve ended up in New York City, where I was raised, and like Julian, I’ve spent close to half my life in college towns. There’s something about college towns that perpetuates the myth of eternal youth. There are the familiar signposts—football Saturdays, homecoming, Thanksgiving, spring break, finals—and then the process starts over again with a new group of students. In the meantime, another year has passed and you’re getting older.

My characters have this idea (for a long time I had this idea, too) that someday they would become adults, that there would be a watershed moment. But there is no watershed moment. Adulthood catches you by surprise. You make decisions—what town you move to, what job you take, whom you live with and love—and those decisions ramify out in ways you hadn’t anticipated. Life is what happens when you’re not paying attention. This is what I started to understand as I wrote Matrimony, and what I’ve tried to capture in its pages.

Book Club Recommendations

Author call in
by AdinaP (see profile) 12/27/10
We found out after the fact that the author does call ins.

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "Perfect for any book club"by Josh K. (see profile) 08/23/11

Matrimony displays Henkin's light touch and insightful observations about relationships and the world around us. The book avoids gimmicks and relies on solid writing, interesting plot and satisfying resolution... (read more)

  "Matrimony"by Steven G. (see profile) 08/12/11

Touching and insightful examination of marriage and friendship. Reads quickly.

  "An Amazing Book Club Pick"by Beth B. (see profile) 08/10/11

I adored this book. The characters are so real and lifelike you feel that you know them as well as you know your family and friends. Matrimony follows the twenty-year history of a relationship, and in... (read more)

  "A moving and thought-provoking story"by Miles E. (see profile) 07/21/11

Jealousy, loss, betrayal, mortality, musings about the writer's struggle? It's all in there. But at bottom it's just an engaging and memorable read about some imperfect, but deeply compelling, characters... (read more)

  "A book that truly stays with you"by Mark S. (see profile) 07/21/11

Unfortunately, even with novels I thoroughly enjoy, I tend to forget the characters and plot points almost immediately after putting the book down. This one was different. The characters were beautifully... (read more)

  "Wise and mature, with a sweetness seldom seen in realistic fiction"by Tim B. (see profile) 07/08/11

MATRIMONY is a book to savor slowly, to read a little and then stop and consider what you've read and to make inevitable connections of your own. Because Joshua Henkin has somehow managed to... (read more)

  "A Modern Love Story"by Marcy F. (see profile) 05/01/11

A dramatic and honest story of young love being challenged unexpectedly. Henkin engages readers with intricate, real characters that change and grow over time. This book was well-received in our group... (read more)

  "I loved this book"by A M. (see profile) 04/05/11

Henkin is the kind of writer that other writers admire. His prose is lovely and taut. I loved the characters, felt that I knew them and wanted to know them more. I liked getting into the characters' minds.... (read more)

  "The beauty is the Melody of the Author's words"by Eva-Michaele W. (see profile) 03/02/11

If you are not currently in a book club Joshua Henkin's much anticipated second novel Matrimony is the reason to start one! Henkin's ability to make the reader feel as though they are in the moment along... (read more)

  "A Quiet, Well Written Novel"by Adina P. (see profile) 12/27/10

I saw a review of this that called this "a quiet novel." That's the best description I can imagine for it. Nothing earth-shattering, or portray as such. Just 4 characters' lives, their relationships with... (read more)

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