The New York Times
Matrimonyby Joshua Henkin
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, Julian and Mia's love affair will carry them to graduation and beyond, taking them through several college towns, over the next fifteen years. Starting at the height of the Reagan era and ending in the new millennium, Matrimony is a stunning novel of love and friendship, money and ambition, desire and tensions of faith. It is a richly 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.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
The New York Times
The New York Times Book Review
In 1987, Manhattan-reared hothouse flower Julian Wainwright matriculates at the alternative Graymont College for the express purposes of attending Professor Stephen Chesterfield's exclusive fiction writing workshop. As Chesterfield dryly infuses his writing wisdom, Julian befriends the cocky, aloof, lesser-born Carter Heinz when they are the only two to whom Chesterfield gives the nod. Carter soon meets Pilar in the cafeteria; Julian meets Mia in the laundry room. Carter's simmering class resentment of Julian surfaces. Senior year finds the two couples living next door to one another and plotting their futures. Henkin (Swimming Across the Hudson) subsequently follows the lovers for the next 15 years through countless college towns, family dramas, failed literary projects and the dot-com boom. Many scenes are too long, and never get below the surface of the cast, particularly wannabe-litterateur Julian. But for a book called Matrimony, Henkin offers surprisingly little about Julian and Mia's marriage, so when big confrontations do arrive, they quickly slide into melodrama. By then, lines like "But I don't want to get my M.F.A. Can't you understand that? I've already been in enough writing workshops" will have cleared the classroom. (Oct.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Julian Wainwright is the WASPy son of Yalie Richard Wainwright III and Constance Wainwright, a Wellesley graduate. He loves his parents and doesn't mind being rich, but he is ready to escape. So in 1986 he heads off to Graymont College, a small liberal arts college in Massachusetts, where he can pursue his writing and leave his heritage behind for awhile. During the course of the year, he meets the lovely Mia Mendelsohn while doing laundry. They are both smitten and begin a love affair that lasts 20 years. Of course, it isn't without its ups and downs. Mia loses her mother to breast cancer her senior year and hangs onto the life she knows by marrying Julian. They then head to Michigan, where she will attend graduate school and he will work on his novel. Best friend Carter Heinz figures prominently in Julian's life, and it's while visiting Carter in California that Julian learns a secret that threatens to tear his life apart. While not earthshakingly original, this novel takes a good look at love, friendship, and marriage from the Reagan years to the new century. Recommended for larger collections.
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Read an Excerpt
“Out! Out! Out!” The first words Julian Wainwright ever spoke, according to his father, Richard Wainwright III, graduate of Yale and grand lubricator of the economic machinery, and Julian’s mother, Constance Wainwright, Wellesley graduate and descendant of a long family of Pennsylvania Republicans. Julian, the first Wainwright in four generations to be given his own Christian name. Julian’s father would have liked another Richard Wainwright, but Julian’s mother was a persistent woman and she believed a child of hers was entitled to his own identity and therefore his own name. And so, at fifteen months, in a car ride back from Martha’s Vineyard, Julian, who until then had not said a word and had given his parents every reason to think language would come slowly to him, uttered these words in rapid succession: “Out! Out! Out!” Not once, not twice, but repeatedly, until the words became a chant and it was obvious that for reasons all his own he didn’t want to return to New York City, to his parents’ apartment on Sutton Place.
Now, seventeen years later, he had gotten his wish. It was 1986, and he was starting his freshman year at Graymont College, a small liberal arts school in Northington, Massachusetts, two hours west of Boston. An alternative school, according to the Graymont brochure, on whose cover there appeared a picture of Rousseau sitting next to a cow. Henri Rousseau? Jean-Jacques Rousseau? The students didn’t know, and they didn’t seem to care. The only thing that mattered was that they were at Graymont, in the middle of whose campus stood a shanty protesting college investments in South Africa, a shanty so large it could fit practically the whole student body inside it. According to one upper-class math major, more nights per capita had been spent sleeping inside the shanty at Graymont than in any other college shanty in the United States.
At Graymont, if you wanted, you could receive comments from your professors instead of grades, and on the application for admission there was a “creative expression” section that, according to rumor, one successful applicant had completed by baking a chocolate cake. “Hash brownies!” a student said. “The guy got the dean of admissions stoned!”
Julian’s own creative expression section took the form of a short story he’d written. At thirteen, he’d met his hero, John Cheever, standing on the steps of the 92nd Street Y, and ever since then, ever since he’d gotten John Cheever’s autograph, Julian had known he was going to be a writer.
But that would come later, once classes had begun. Right now, Julian waited in his dorm room to greet his new roommate, a young man from New Jersey who had assured him over the telephone that he was bringing the largest stereo system Julian had ever seen. It was going to take the two of them to carry it up the stairs.
Julian’s roommate was right. The promised stereo system, when it was delivered, looked like an intercontinental ballistic missile. It was a stereo system paid for by Ronald Reagan and built by the United States Pentagon and directed at Mikhail Gorbachev and the Soviet Politburo, a stereo system that could blow the Russians out of the sky and turn them into a mushroom cloud.
Wandering about the room, trailing wire behind him, Julian’s roommate was contemplating where to put his electric guitar, his boom box, his microwave, his toaster oven; he was, Julian thought, a tangle of electricity. “This school is wild,” his roommate said. “Some of the guys on campus wear skirts.”
“They’re hoping to transcend the boundaries of gender. Mostly they’re just trying to get laid. There are naked parties here. People come to them without any clothes on.”
“In the winter, I guess, they wear shoes and socks. It gets pretty cold here.” Julian’s roommate was dark-haired and thickset, and he had brought with him piles of pressed shirts and trousers, each of them separated from the others by a white piece of tissue paper, as if they had come directly from the dry cleaner. He was hanging them up now, smoothing them out with his hand. “You think those guys pee in the shower?”
“Jared and Hartley. Bill. Stefan.” Julian’s roommate gestured to the room down the hall. “Hartley’s the kind of guy who pees in the shower.”
In the bathroom now, Julian glanced warily at the showers. There were two stalls for six guys, each with a white piece of plastic hanging down from the rod but not quite reaching the floor.
“It’s bad enough to pee in your own shower,” his roommate said. “But in a communal shower?” He looked up at Julian. “You don’t pee in the shower, do you?”
“No,” Julian said. From time to time he had. Didn’t everyone?
“I had this roommate in prep school who peed in the sink.”
“You didn’t,” Julian said.
“Swear to God. When I was using the bathroom and he needed to go, he’d just climb up on the sink and pee in it.”
“All the same, I think I’ll be wearing flip-flops in here.” Again his roommate gestured to the room down the hall, as if to reassure Julian it wasn’t him he mistrusted.
“Here come the PCC-ers,” his roommate said. Through the window, Julian could see a group of students walking across the quad. They wore blue badges and name tags and held red and black satchels. They were upperclassmen, Julian’s roommate said, recent graduates of a weeklong training course in reproductive health, purveyors of information about pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, and in their satchels they carried the tools of their trade: leaflets, condoms, dental dams, and spermicide in all flavors.
Julian said, “The PCC-ers?”
“Peer Contraceptive Counseling. First night at school, they come talk to you. It’s all part of in loco parentis.”
“There are dozens of them.”
“Like flies,” his roommate said.
That night, as his roommate had predicted, everyone in Julian’s entryway met with four members of Peer Contraceptive Counseling, each wearing a PCC badge and name tag and holding a red and black PCC satchel. In freshman entryways across campus, upperclassmen had descended, wearing these very same badges and name tags and carrying these very same satchels.
Julian listened to a beautiful young woman named Nicole demonstrate how to use a dental dam. What exactly was a dental dam and why was Nicole wearing one? She appeared to be covered in Saran Wrap. Now Nicole’s colleagues, Brian, Ted, and Simone, were trying on dental dams as well. Several of the boys began to laugh, but the girls nodded knowingly, as if they’d spent their whole lives in the company of dental dams.
Soon it was time to taste the spermicide.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” Nicole said, uncapping a tube of spermicide and squeezing a little onto her finger. She stuck her finger into her mouth, then passed the spermicide to Ted, who stuck his finger into his mouth. Everyone was eating spermicide.
“It’s fruit flavor,” Nicole told the freshmen. “It’s supposed to be eaten.”
She asked for volunteers from the students, and when no one raised a hand she chose Julian.
Julian stood up. Was he supposed to stand up? Did you eat spermicide sitting down or standing up? Nicole was only a junior, but she seemed so much older than he was, so wise to the ways of the body and to the various flavors of spermicide and to the reasons there should be various flavors of spermicide.
“Would you like passion fruit?” Nicole asked. “Or strawberry?”
“Strawberry’s good,” Julian said.
Nicole handed him the spermicide.
“Don’t worry,” Nicole said. “It goes down smooth. It tastes like strawberry bubble gum.”
Julian squeezed some spermicide onto his finger and stuck it into his mouth.
“How does it taste?”
It tasted terrible. Like strawberry bubblegum but with extra chemicals. It had a sloppy, grainy texture. Julian nodded in approval.
The session lasted an hour and a half, and at the end of it all eighteen freshmen from Julian’s entryway were sent off with a contraceptive loot bag that included spermicide, dental dams, and condoms, miniature red and black satchels of their own taken from the larger satchels the PCC-ers carried with them. Carefully, seriously, respectfully, the girls took their satchels upstairs to their rooms, while the boys tossed the contents at one another and dissected them, and Hartley, from across the hall, filled his condoms with water and jettisoned them out the window into the courtyard, seeing if he could get them to explode.
Julian’s roommate said, “I’m telling you, that guy pees in the shower.”
“Could be,” Julian said. He went into his bedroom to unpack.
The reason Julian had come to Graymont, the only reason, as far as he was concerned, that anyone should come in the first place, was to study fiction writing with Professor Stephen Chesterfield. In the course catalogue the class was called “Fiction Writing Workshop,” but Professor Chesterfield hated the word “workshop,” which sounded like a church meeting, hated it, especially, as a verb (“Will my story be workshopped next time, Professor Chesterfield?”), the use of which was grounds for expulsion from his class.
If you were lucky enough to have been admitted in the first place.
Applicants to Professor Chesterfield’s class had to submit a writing sample and they were required to answer the following question: “Do you now, or do you ever intend to, write material geared for the U.S. motion picture industry located in Hollywood, California?”
Poor Professor Chesterfield. His only novel, published twenty-five years ago before the onset of his now famous writer’s block, had been sold to Hollywood, and Professor Chesterfield had been flown out to California to meet the screenwriter and the director and to witness the proceedings on the set. Nobody on the set got along, and in the end Professor Chesterfield’s novel never made it to the screen. Some people said it was Professor Chesterfield’s own fault. Displeased with the script, he acted brutishly, threatening the screenwriter, the director, the actors themselves. It was the darkest period in an already dark life, and in the wake of his trip to Hollywood, Professor Chesterfield’s bout with writer’s block began.
“Do you now, or do you ever intend to, write material geared for the U.S. motion picture industry located in Hollywood, California?” Julian suspected that F. Scott Fitzgerald himself wouldn’t have been admitted to Professor Chesterfield’s class if he’d said he wanted to write a screenplay.
Destroyed by Hollywood, Professor Chesterfield returned to Graymont, to his students, who watched more and more movies and read fewer and fewer books. Scrutinizing their stories, he could see the camera panning, the jump cuts and dolly shots, all the things that had ruined him. Worse, his students had taken to writing words such as “bang,” “pop,” and “splat,” as well as nonwords masquerading as words, such as “kaboom,” “yikes,” “glunk,” and even “arrrghhhh,” often followed by multiple exclamation points. And in case the reader didn’t understand, the student would use capital letters: “ARRRGHHHH!!!!!”
Worst of all was “kerplunk,” which a student of Professor Chesterfield’s had used the previous year. A character had fallen off a horse, and then, in a paragraph all its own, came the single word.
So in the fall of 1986, the first thing Professor Chesterfield did after placing his papers on his desk was approach the blackboard and write, in all capital letters though without exclamation points, the following rule:
THOU SHALT NOT USE THE WORD “KERPLUNK” IN YOUR SHORT STORIES.
The first of what would prove to be 117 commandments written on the blackboard that year.
Professor Chesterfield was fifty-seven years old, but he had a lithe, sinewy build and a full head of hair, and he walked about the classroom in his signature dark blazer and Stan Smith tennis sneakers with the agility of an athlete. Julian had heard that he still played pickup basketball and that the reason he walked around the classroom– as much as a mile during the course of a single class, according to the calculations of one former student–was to stay in shape for the basketball court.
THOU SHALT NOT UTTER THE PHRASE “SHOW, DON’T TELL” WHEN DISCUSSING ONE ANOTHER’S SHORT STORIES.
Rufus McCoy appeared stricken. Rufus was a freshman from Delaware, and he had so desperately wanted to get into Professor Chesterfield’s class that after handing in his application he went straight to Professor Chesterfield’s office and begged to be admitted; he actually got down on his knees and said, “I beg of you, sir.” Until this point, Rufus had not only believed in “Show, don’t tell,” he believed in it with the fervor of a religious acolyte. In fact, it was practically the only thing he believed in when it came to creative writing. “Why not?”
“Because it’s a lie.” Professor Chesterfield was sitting on his desk, his legs swinging back and forth, and between his left thumb and forefinger he held a cigarette. There were rules against smoking in Graymont buildings, but Professor Chesterfield didn’t care about rules. The only rules he cared about were the ones he wrote on his blackboard.
“In what sense?” This was Astrid, who had a semicircle of silver studs in the rim of her left ear and wore a thick layer of black lipstick.
She gave off an air of wounded toughness.
“In the sense that it’s not true. Tell me something,” Professor Chesterfield said. “Where would Proust be if he weren’t allowed to tell anything?”
“Proust?” someone said, sounding as if she’d never heard of the man.
“Or Flaubert. Or Stendhal. Or Dickens.” For a time, Professor Chesterfield had succumbed to convention and spent the first day of class going around the room, allowing the students to introduce themselves. These were known as ice-breakers, but Professor Chesterfield didn’t like what was beneath the ice. The students told one another who they were and what books they were reading, and these were always books Professor Chesterfield hadn’t heard of, and once he had, he regretted it.
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
Joshua Henkin is the author of the novel Swimming Across the Hudson, which was selected by the Los Angeles Times as a notable book of the year; his short stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in many journals and newspapers. He teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, Brooklyn College, and the 92nd Street Y in New York City. He lives in Brooklyn; visit him online at www.joshuahenkin.com.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This book is about marriage, friendship and family. It's also a story about hope. I enjoyed the storyline and the characters. The story takes us through almost the next two decades of Julian and Mia's lives. There is alot going on here, and you can relate to these characters and the everyday struggles they face. I liked Julian, I think his character grows throughout the story. You want him and Mia to be okay despite all the obstacles they face. Carter has kind of a love-hate relationship with Julian, he considers Julian a good friend yet also envies him. But towards the end of the story, you see him mature a bit as well. I think this book would make a great film.
Another winner from Henkin! Oh, Joshua Henkin! You write such wonderful books! This was my second book by him (the first being The World Without You) and I loved them both! This one, Matrimony, follows a couple for the 20+ years of their lives after they first met in college. When I read The World Without You, the one word that kept coming to mind was familiar, and the same applies t to this book. Henkin has a way of writing that is 100% relatable (even if you haven’t been in the situation he is writing about). His characters are all so realistic that I can’t get enough of them. The book starts out with the unlikely friendship between Julian (who I envisioned as Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother), an affluent New Englander, and Carter, a scholarship kid from California, who are enrolled in the same creative writing course. As Carter tries to break into the WASPy culture his friend hails from, Julian is trying to escape it. They both meet some great ladies, and from there the book mostly follows the lives of Julian and his wife, Mia. The story is propelled by the troubles and secrets that they face, and I wish I could give you more information without giving anything away! One of my favorite parts was his description of the Make Way for Duckling’s in the Boston Public Gardens because I have fond memories of taking a picture while sitting on the smallest duck at various points throughout my life spanning 30 years. Another was a comment in passing about someone walking a bunny on a leash because I did that when I was a kid, too. Add in the fact that I can fold my tongue like a “cauliflower” and the way he describes the magic of owning a dog, and the book is, I repeat, familiar. I read some of the other reviews about this book and one of the main complaints is that the story takes place over such a long period of time that it lacks character development. I completely disagree with this sentiment. Because Henkin‘s characters are so real, it is not necessary to focus on the mundane, day-to-day intricacies of life and marriage. There are too many books out there that spend time on what the characters ate and their fight over household chores. I love that Henkin doesn’t waste his talent writing these types of details and focuses on the parts that matter. I love that Henkin‘s books remind me of real people and are not filled with any shocking twists and turns that would never happen in real life. If you do too, then this is a book for you!
I thought this was a great read. Not exactly "literature" but a great, fun, quick read. Nice story. Look forward to more books by him.
This was a study in the human condition. A simple yet compelling book about the life off one couple from college to marriage to deaths and separation. This wasn't my normal fare but I enjoyed it, the characters were fully fleshed out and kept your interest. At times they made you angry and other times made you sad. My favorite person (I say person because this book made you feel like you were reading a story about long lost friends and how they have fared through life) was Mia because although I did not lose my mother from breast cancer she did have it and I too go through the worry of getting this disease. So she was whom I related to the most. Julian made me mad at times and Carter was such a contradiction (but I love flawed characters) that sometimes it was hard to see the good that Julian saw in him at one time. All in all this was a good book. 3 1/2 Stars
A quiet but compelling story about a marriage over time... of particular interest to aspiring writers, especially those who've been working on a novel for a long time (as the protagonist in this book has been!)...
Josh Henkin¿s Julian Wainwright is the major character in what is a poignant depiction of Mia and Julian Wainwright¿s marriage and all that entails. All of the emotional upheaval one might expect in a marriage filled with infidelity, suspicion, and loss, is found in Julian¿s marriage to Mia. Julian¿s plans for the perfect life change as he finds he must face reality. He learns what life gives each of us, and how it changes our plans, sometimes rather quickly, but more often than not, rather steadily, determines what really happens next in our well planned existence. These plans can produce positive as well as negative results.
At the age of 13, Julian meets author John Cheever and from that point on, all Julian wants to do is write. He attends Graymont College, known for its excellent writing program, where he becomes one of four freshmen who the story follows for the next few decades. One, of course is Mia Mendelsohn from Montreal. Theirs is a story book start with instant attraction and falling in love. Also in the group is Carter Heinz, a scholarship student all the way from California, who is probably THE most talented writer in the group, and also the poorest financially. Carter tries, but often just can¿t control the jealousy he feels toward Julian, because of the wealth Julian is lucky to be born into. These feelings toward Julian cause Carter to almost miss an opportunity for a truly glorious friendship. Carter¿s girlfriend, Pilar, completes the foursome. Pilar¿s parents are lawyers and she wants to follow in their footsteps. The failures and successes of these two couples are chronicled so well by Henkin over the next few years.
While Julian struggles to be the writer he just knows he can be, they find out that Mia¿s mother is ill. Things are set in motion as decisions seem to be made for them at this point. Mia¿s mom has breast cancer and Mia decides she really wants to marry Julian before her mother dies. And so, having married right after graduation, Julian moves to follow Mia as she continues her education. Their travels take them from their New England college town to one in the Midwest as Mia¿s postgraduate work is in the field of psychotherapy. While Mia is in school, Julian teaches some courses and continues to write. Eventually, they wind up in New York. With each move, and each year of marriage, Julian and Mia find old secrets coming out and their marriage is tested to the point of destruction.
Julian goes to Berkley to watch Carter graduate from Law School. Carter, who has founded a computer software start-up company, is now worth millions. Carter¿s wife, and college sweetheart, have split up. So the two friends get together to talk about the good old days and Carter let¿s a supposedly unintentional secret slip out. At this point, the path this story will take is up for grabs as to whether Julian and Mia will be able to get over this next hurdle. Along with that, Mia finds out she carries the same breast cancer gene that her mother did and the story goes once again in another direction as priorities change.
Henkin¿s writing makes for a moving account set in just the right atmosphere that keeps readers involved with the story. The characters are real and the reader can relate to them, believe in them, and more importantly, care about them. What happens with the knowledge Julian learned and the battle Mia faces, is what brings this story to its stunning conclusion. MATRIMONY is beautifully written story.
Matrimony's strengths are twofold. Exceptionally smooth prose makes it an effortless and enjoyable reading experience. And emotional honesty offers us a wholly believable and satifying story. We follow a young Julian and Mia through their college years and an early marriage, to career choices and changes, the loss of a parent, and lingering doubts about Julian's ability to become the writer he wants to be. Their closest friends, Carter and Pilar, share those times with them and life moves forward as they spend some years both studying and teaching in different college towns. We watch them mature, gaining new insights about each other as parents age, friends split up, illness threatens, and an old secret causes a deep wound.
The author is clearly perceptive about the intricacies of relationships and of matrimony. We may see this as the story of a young couple's marital course but it is more. For there are in fact several marriages here when we take into account both Julian and Mia's friends as well as their respective parents. While our main interest follows them, each couple's relationship is unique and working itself out in its own ways too and we are privy to all of it. This is a quiet but solid story, driven by well-developed, complex characters whose lives we are seriously interested in. It's about life, long love, and friendship, and it's one story you don't want to miss out on. Four and a half stars out of five. Highly recommended.
Its all about friendship, love, money, ambition, desire and faith. Matrimony starts us out in Massachuetts in 1986. Julian is going to Graymont College, a small liberal Arts School. In a writting class he meets Carter Heniz. The exact opposite of Julian. Julian is a privileged child and Carter is not. They bond and become best friends. Carter meets a girl named Pilar. They quickly become a couple. During that time both Julian and Carter would play a game with the freshman yearbook about which one knew the most classmates. Page 47 was dog earred and in the upper right hand corner was Mia Mendelsohn. Mia from Montreal as Julian called her, his crush. Carter speaks to Mia first and tells Julian of this. By chance one day they both end up washing their clothes at the same time. They took and go out. After that they are inseperable. In their senior year of college Julian, Mia, Carter and Pilar, the only couples still dating since freshman year, all move in together. Mia gets a call from her father saying that Mia's mother has breast cancer. Gradually the Mia's mother is getting worse. Mia wants to leave school but her parents tell her to stay. Realizing her mother is dying Mia proposes to Julian. She wants to get married before her mother dies. Mia and Julian get married and move to Michigan. Mia is studing psychology and Julian is teaching at the university and working on his novel. Carter and Pilar are in California. Julian flies out to Carter's graduation. Carter is graduating Law School and is thinking of taking the bar exams. Carter and Pilar are separated, he tells Julian. Secrets are revealed to Julian that he had no idea about. Secrets that changed the lives of Carter, Julian and Mia.
Tender, joyful and true. An aspiring fiction writer meets his future wife and best friend freshman year in college, and we follow them as they grow apart and back again. Great dialogue, characters and place. Made me smile with deep recognition at innocent college love, but also at the mature, forgiving love that follows decades later.