The World Without You: A Novel

The World Without You: A Novel

3.3 47
by Joshua Henkin
     
 

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It's July 4, 2005, and the Frankel family is descending upon their beloved summer home in the Berkshires. They have gathered to memorialize Leo, the youngest of the four siblings and an intrepid journalist killed on that day in 2004, while on assignment in Iraq. But Leo’s parents are adrift in a grief that’s tearing apart their forty-year marriage, his

Overview

It's July 4, 2005, and the Frankel family is descending upon their beloved summer home in the Berkshires. They have gathered to memorialize Leo, the youngest of the four siblings and an intrepid journalist killed on that day in 2004, while on assignment in Iraq. But Leo’s parents are adrift in a grief that’s tearing apart their forty-year marriage, his sisters are struggling with their own difficulties, and his widow has arrived from California bearing a secret. Here award-winning writer Joshua Henkin unfolds this family story, as, over the course of three days, the Frankels contend with sibling rivalries and marital feuds, with volatile women and silent men — and, ultimately, with the true meaning of family. 

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Insightful. . . . Poignant. . . . Elegant.”
The New York Times Book Review

“A wonderful novel. . . . I just love it.”
—Anne Lamott, The Miami Herald

“Moving.” 
—O, The Oprah Magazine

“A keenly observed and compassionate novel. . . . Tenderness spills from these pages.”
Entertainment Weekly

“[A] densely detailed and touching portrait.”
People

“[Henkin] grounds his novel in both time and place, creating a living, breathing world. . . . Gorgeously written.”
The Boston Globe

“Few American novelists, living or dead, have ever been as good as Henkin at drawing people.”
—Commentary Magazine

“Intimate and insightful. . . . Reminds us that families are icebergs, with nine-tenths of their emotions just below the surface, capable of wreaking havoc when struck.”
—San Francisco Chronicle

“Witty, poignant, and heartfelt.”
—Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story

“In the course of [a] long weekend, old and new tensions . . . bubble to the surface. It could be the plot of a Chekhov play or a Woody Allen movie. But on this classic narrative scaffolding, Joshua Henkin develops a painfully contemporary situation. . . . The skill with which Henkin explores the points of view and personae of his ensemble cast is masterful.”
Newsday

“Moving.”
Vanity Fair

“Henkin is a writer of voluminous heart, humanity, and talent.”
—Julia Glass, author of The Widower’s Tale

“Masterful . . . . Here are Tanglewood concerts overheard, fireflies, skinny-dipping, an intense tennis game, fireworks, jalapeno-lime corn on the cob and white gazpacho. Henkin gets all the details just right. Think ‘The Big Chill,’ family style.”
—The New York Jewish Week

“Pleasingly old-fashioned. . . . [A] warm-hearted novel.”
—The Washington Post

“A triumph and an important novel about America.”
—Yiyun Li, author of Gold Boy, Emerald Girl

“In 2005, if a novelist had published a book that hinged on the murder of a Jewish American journalist by Islamic terrorists in Iraq, it would have been read as a political novel, a war novel, a post-9/11 novel—and, of course, a roman a clef about Daniel Pearl. . . . Yet the passage of time has made it possible for Henkin to turn this headline-news premise into a book that is quiet, inward-turning, and largely apolitical. . . . Henkin is a novelist of distinguished gifts.”
Tablet

“An immeasurably moving masterpiece.”
—Heidi Julavits, author of The Vanishers

“Henkin takes no sides in his novel. He simply presents his characters as they are, as they think, as they feel, how they interact and lets it all reveal whatever it may. . . . A novel for mature readers—those who like fiction providing insight into how people actually live.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“[Resembles] Richard Ford’s luminescent novel The Sportswriter. . . . Wonderful. . . . Powerful.”
The Rumpus

“The American family in crisis has long represented rich source material for writers, from Hawthorne to Morrison. In his deeply felt new novel, Joshua Henkin offers his contemporary contribution. . . . [Characters] leap uncensored off the page as powerful and fully realized human beings, rather than types. . . . Heartfelt.”
The Miami Herald

“Marvelous on the solitudes that exist even within the strongest and most compassionate of families.”
—Jim Shepard, author of You Think That’s Bad

 “Gives us a welcome portrait of the repercussions of faraway wars on people who usually consider themselves to be spectators. . . . Compassionate and beguiling.”
—NPR Books

 “Point this one out to contemporary fiction fans of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, or the works of Rick Moody, Richard Russo, Philip Roth, and John Updike.”
—Library Journal

Publishers Weekly
Like a more bittersweet version of Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You or a less chilly variation on Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, Henkin (Matrimony) tenderly explores family dynamics in this novel about the ties that bind, and even lacerate. One year after the death of their kidnapped journalist son, Leo, in Iraq, David and Marilyn Frankel, non-practicing Jews, call their entire mishpocha to their summer home in the Berkshires to attend his memorial service: Clarissa and her husband, Nathaniel, who, after years of putting off parenthood, are having a difficult time getting pregnant; Lily, a D.C. lawyer who shows up without Malcolm, her restaurateur boyfriend of 10 years; Noelle, an Orthodox Jew who arrives from Jerusalem with her husband, Amram, and their four children; and Thisbe, Leo’s widow, a grad student who flies in from Berkeley with their three-year-old son, Calder. Over the course of the Fourth of July holiday, David and Marilyn will make a stunning announcement; Thisbe will reveal a secret; a game of Celebrity will cause Amram to drive off into the night; Leo will be remembered; and someone will pee on the carpet. The author has created an empathetic cast of characters that the reader will love spending time with, even as they behave like fools and hurt one another. An intelligently written novel that works as a summer read and for any other time of the year. Agent: Lisa Bankoff, ICM. (June)
Library Journal
Like Henkin's Swimming Across the Hudson and subsequent Matrimony, this third novel focuses on family. It seems like a step forward, though the first two titles both won Notable Book Status at various publications. Here, the Frankels have gathered at their summer home for the memorial service of youngest son Leo, a journalist killed on assignment in Iraq. With a reading-group guide and an eight-city tour.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307277183
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/09/2013
Series:
Vintage Contemporaries Series
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
618,482
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

Prologue
 
Here,” she says, “I’ll get you a sweater.” She’s barely done speaking before she’s taking the stairs two at a time, her espadrilles clomping against the peeling wood, transporting her down the long hallway. It’s July and twilight comes late, so even now, at nine o’clock, the last of the sun still colors the sky, but inside the house the corridors are dark and she’s neglected to illuminate the antique standing lamp at the top of the stairs as if to reflect an inner austerity. It’s their country house, but like their apartment in the city the hallway runs through it, an endless spine, which she traverses now, past the Kathe Kollwitz etchings and the street map of Paris and the photographs of her and David’s grandparents staring down at them on opposite sides of the wall from another continent and century. She moves with such purpose (dogged, implacable: those are the words David uses to describe her) that when she reaches the lip of their bedroom and steps inside she’s startled to discover she’s forgotten what she came for.
 
She calls out to him, but he doesn’t respond.
 
“Are you there?”
 
There’s silence.
 
“David?” She’ll turn seventy next spring, and David will, too (They were born a week apart. They’ve figured it out: she was emerging from the womb at the very hour he was circumcised, the first and last Jewish ritual he ever partook of, which places him, she thinks, one Jewish ritual ahead of her.), and she’s taken to saying her memory has begun to fail her, though she knows that’s not true. Or no more true than for any sixty-nine-year-old—or for any adult human, for that matter. To have the memory of an infant, a toddler. She recalls Clarissa at ten months, those first stabs at language, how she resolved right then to teach her daughter French and German, to do it while it was still possible. She felt the same with Lily and Noelle, and again a few years later when Leo was born. She spent her junior year in Paris, at the Sorbonne, and David spent his junior year in Düsseldorf. Her French was rusty by the time the children were born, and David’s German was rusty, too, but it was worth a try, wasn’t it, she said, and she still had her Berlitz tapes. And David, who in those days was still inclined to indulge her, allowed her to convince him to embark on a summer experiment; she would speak French to Clarissa and he would speak German. Two junior years abroad between them, one set of Berlitz tapes: the experiment lasted a week, the two of them speaking to baby Clarissa in their bad French and bad German until it became obvious to Marilyn what should have been obvious to her all along, that their daughter wasn’t going to be trilingual; she was going to be mute, a wolf-child.
 
She remembers now. A sweater. She stands in front of their old closet, and there they are: David’s shirts pressed and starched and evenly spaced, the shoes lined up in pairs, the sweaters folded in piles, next to them hanging a single brown cardigan. For a second she feels like a voyeur, looking in on a life that’s no longer hers, and as she reaches out to grab the cardigan her hand shakes.
 
She heads back downstairs, and when she reaches the landing she calls out again, but he still doesn’t respond. For an instant she panics: has he run off?
 
“I was calling you,” she says. “Didn’t you hear me?”
 
“I guess not.” David is out on the porch, reading the Times, reclined on one of their old lawn chairs. His legs stick out in front of him; he taps his feet against the edge of the chair.
 
“I got you this.” She hands him the cardigan, which he takes obediently, but now he’s just laid it folded across his lap.
 
“You said you were cold.”
 
“Did I?” His gaze is far off, tunneling past her.
 
He looks pale, she thinks. He’s wearing a red button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and he inhabits it so loosely that it billows around him like a pastry puff. He looks as if he’s lost weight. He has lost weight. So has she. They haven’t eaten much, either of them, this past year.
 
A mosquito lands on his neck. She swats at it, and he flinches. “A bug,” she says.
 
He nods.
 
A firefly alights on one of her tulips, and another one, casting the garden in a sputter of light. “The girls will be arriving soon.”
 
“Not for another twenty-four hours.”
 
“That’s soon enough.”
 
Another mosquito lands on him.
 
“The bugs love you,” she says. “Remember how we used to say that to the kids? Mornings before summer camp and we were coating them in Calamine? The mosquitoes loved Leo most of all.”
 
She knows what he’s thinking. That memory is selective, even in small matters like this one. But it’s true, she thinks. Leo was the most bit-up of the kids. The bugs found him the sweetest, as did she.
 
He rises from his chair. “I need to get a haircut.”
 
“David, it’s nine o’clock at night.”
 
“I mean tomorrow,” he says, all impatience. “I’ll go into town before the girls arrive.” He checks his reflection in the porch window. He’s patting down his hair, straightening out his shirt collar as if he has somewhere to go.
 
“You look good,” she says. “Handsome.” He still has a full head of hair, though it’s grown silver over the years. When, she wonders, did this happen? It’s taken place so slowly she hasn’t noticed it at all.
 
She’s sitting in a lawn chair, and she turns away from him. It’s been a year since Leo died, and on the teak garden table, pressed beneath a mound of books, sits a pile of programs for the memorial. There will be a service at the Lenox Community Center; then they’ll go to the cemetery for the unveiling.
 
“You changed into tennis shorts,” he says.
 
“I was thinking of hitting some balls.”
 
“Now?”
 
“The court is lit.”
 
He shrugs, then goes back to the Times. He skims the editorial page, the letters, and now he’s on to the arts. He folds the paper like origami, over and over on itself.
 
She steps off the porch and disappears into the garden. She continues along the stone path, which winds past the bushes to where their tennis court lies. The garage is next to it, and as she steps inside and flips on the court lights, the clays gets flooded in a pond of illumination.
 
She stands at the baseline with a bucket of balls, another bucket waiting in the garage behind her. She’s in her shorts and an indigo tank top, her sneakers laced tightly, her hair tied back, though a few strands have come loose in the nighttime heat. She breathes slowly, in and out. She hits serve after serve into the empty opponent’s court, taking something off the second serve, putting more spin on it, then returning to her first serve, hitting one ace after another. She serves into the deuce court and the ad court and the deuce court again. She empties one bucket of balls, and now she returns with the other bucket. Occasionally when she serves, her ball hits another ball lying on the clay, and they bounce off each other. There are a hundred and fifty tennis balls now, maybe two hundred, the court covered in fuzz the color of lime. Sweat drips down her forehead and singes her eyes. She simply leaves the balls lying there and returns to the house.
 
“Did you get it out of your system?”
 
She doesn’t respond.
 
“So this is it,” he says.
 
It is. After forty-two years of marriage, she’s leaving him. At least that’s how David puts it—how he will put it, no doubt, when they tell the girls. And it’s true in a way: she was the one who finally decided she couldn’t go on like this. A week ago she asked him for a trial separation. She hates that term. As if she’s standing in front of a judge and lawyers, a jury of her peers. When she made her announcement, David said he wanted to give it another shot, but they’ve been giving it shot after shot for a year now and she has no more left in her. There are days when they don’t talk at all. She has reminded him of the statistics, what happens to a marriage when you lose a child. Eighty percent, she’s heard, maybe even ninety. Why should this surprise people? Already it’s 50 percent when nothing obvious has gone wrong. But David doesn’t want to hear statistics, and, truth be told, neither does she.
 
Another copy of the program lies forlornly on the porch. They’re everywhere, it seems, strewn randomly about the house. She picks one up from the steps. Leo’s photograph is across the cover, his curls corkscrewing out just like David’s, and beneath the photo are the words APRIL 10, 1972–JULY 4, 2004. At the bottom of the page is a poem by William Butler Yeats.
 
When she told David of her plans, he wanted to call the girls immediately. He wanted to call Thisbe too. It seemed only fair, he said; Thisbe and Calder would be flying in from California. But she refused to let him call. She wanted to tell everyone in person, and to wait until after the memorial was over. But the real reason—she has only half admitted this, even to herself—is that she fears if David told the girls no one would come. It would serve them right, David says; she half suspects he wants to cancel himself. How can they have the memorial, David wants to know, when this is happening? But she disagrees. David thinks, How can they do this? and she thinks, How can they not?
 
Now, in the kitchen, she finds him on his hands and knees, taking a box cutter to four large packing boxes. He makes a single sharp motion down the center of each box. His back is to her; he looks as if he’s searching for contraband. “Do you need help?” she asks, but he doesn’t answer her.
 
The boxes are open now, gutted of their contents; a single Styrofoam peanut has flown out of the packing and skittered like a bug across the floor.
 
“The Williams Sonoma kosher special?”
 
He doesn’t respond.
 
“What’s the damage? A couple thousand dollars? More?”
 
David glances at the receipt, which is perched on the butcher-block table at the center of the room, lying in a bed of Styrofoam. “More or less.”
 
“Oh, well,” she says. “We can afford it.”
 
“I suppose.”
 
“You said you thought it was money well spent.”
 
The contents of the boxes (plates and bowls, cutlery, serving dishes, pans and pots, a few extras that David insisted on, including a set of bowls for the children with famous sports figures on them—they’re sports fiends, the grandchildren) have been purchased so that Noelle, Amram, and their four boys can eat in their house. Noelle won’t eat off nonkosher dishes, even if those dishes belong to her parents. Especially, Marilyn sometimes thinks, if those dishes belong to her parents. Noelle and Amram live in Jerusalem and they visit at most once a year, so the dishes won’t get much use. It’s one of the many reasons Marilyn has been loath to buy them. But David has been lobbying for them for years; he thinks of them as a peace offering.
 
“A plate for me, a plate for you?” She’s doing her best to make light of this.
 
He doesn’t respond.
 
“Noelle will still come visit,” she says. “Nothing has to change about that.” Nothing has to change about anything, she wants to say, but she knows that’s absurd.
 
She has found a rental on the Upper West Side, a two-bedroom in one of those all-services monstrosities, with a gym and a pool, a concierge, a playroom (it will be good for the grandchildren, she thinks), a party room, all the things she could want and a lot of things she couldn’t. It’s eleven blocks from David, which means they could run into each other grocery shopping, though in New York you can go for months without running into your own next-door neighbor. For a while, she thought it would be better to move to another neighborhood (she even considered moving to Brooklyn—Clarissa and Nathaniel live there, so she could be nearby), but except for those few years when the girls were in high school and the family decamped to Westchester, she has spent her whole adult life on the Upper West Side. It’s hard to imagine living anywhere else. And the apartment opened up suddenly and the lease is month to month, so it will be a good place to figure out what comes next. It’s the house in Lenox that makes her heart quicken. Will she be allowed to come back here? Will she allow herself? She and David have been coming to the Berkshires summer after summer for forty years now.
 
“You checked the food?”
 
David nods. “Everything’s certified kosher.”
 
“Are you sure?”
 
He is.
 
More Styrofoam peanuts are strewn across the floor, including one that has lodged itself under the fridge, which Marilyn stabs at with a fork. Now she’s standing with David amidst the wreckage, and beside it all sits the bubble wrap unfurled like a runner across the length of the room. “We bought a whole kitchen,” she says. “No spatula left unturned.”
 
David gives her a tired smile.
 
“Are we supposed to bless them?” she says darkly. “Is that what you do?”
 
“Christen them?” David says.
 
She laughs, as she knows she’s supposed to, and it feels good to laugh with David. For a moment there’s a lightness between them, as if a screen has been lifted.
 
When David finds her a few minutes later, she’s seated in the alcove that adjoins the living room, typing on the computer. “I know what you’re thinking.”
 
“What?” he says.
 
“There she goes again. Writing another op-ed about the war.”
 
“What do you want me to say?”
 
“You could say you miss him.”
 
“Of course I miss him.”
 
“It’s been a year since he died, for God’s sake. And, yes, I know writing these things won’t bring him back, but I don’t care.” She doesn’t care, either, that she has become a mascot for the left and everyone thinks of her as the mother of the dead journalist. Because that’s what she is. It’s what David is, too: the father of the dead journalist. It’s all they’re ever going to be.
 
In the kitchen now, he prepares a citrus marinade for the chicken. He has chosen the menu: white gazpacho, caramelized leeks and endive, marinated chicken thighs, jalapeño-lime corn on the cob, pasta salad. They will also have watermelon slushies. At the moment, though, he’s chopping vegetables. The year before Leo died, when he retired after thirty-nine years of teaching high school English, David took a course consecrated to the very subject, five Sundays running at the 92nd Street Y. Slicing and Dicing 101, Marilyn called it; it was evidence, she believed, that he had too much time on his hands.
 
Though there’s certainly a technique, as he demonstrates now, the way he keeps his knife always on the cutting board, only his wrist moving. That’s all there is these days, just the sound of David when she comes home from work, cutting vegetables in their kitchen on Riverside Drive, the sound of him here too, in Lenox, her husband chopping vegetables. She thinks how hard it’s going to be, living on her own, how she has brought this on herself, the solitude, the silence, and now, when she’s alone, as if in preparation for what’s to come, she has begun to turn on the radio and she listens to music she doesn’t care for, just to hear a sound in the room.
 
The phone rings, but when she goes to answer it, the person has hung up. She has a brief, paranoid thought that someone is following her. A trickle of sweat makes its way down her spine. She opens the kitchen window, but it’s just as warm outside as it is in the house, so she closes the window again. Her heart still beats fast from hitting those tennis balls. She smacked one of the balls as hard as she could, clear over the fence and past the neighbor’s property. She did it for the fun of it, but it wasn’t fun. She feels the energy funnel out of her, wrung from her as if from a sponge. Sometimes she feels as if she could die, that she’d like to die; it would be better that way. “He used to walk around with his laces undone. Remember? It was like he was daring you to step on them.”
 
“Who?”
 
“What do you mean who?” Because in her life there is nobody else. And because for David there has been somebody else (there have been their girls; there have been his hobbies—he has taken up running and become devoted to opera; he stays up late poring over librettos—there has been this relentless chopping of vegetables), because he’s been trying to make the best of an unspeakable situation, she hasn’t been able to abide him. Is that why she’s leaving him? All she knows is she’s so very very tired. She looks at him once more and feels the rage burble inside her.
 
Onions, scallions, leeks, endive, cucumbers, jalapeño: he chops them all. It looks like a trash heap, like volcanic ash. Always the reasonable one. For years she counted on him to be like that. Now it assails her.
 
“Did you call your mother?” she asks.
 
He nods.
 
“You didn’t tell her, did you?” That was their agreement—the agreement, at least, that she extracted from him. No one is to know until after the memorial.
 
“No,” he says sharply. “I didn’t.”
 
“Then what did you two talk about?”
 
“Nothing,” he says. “She’s a woman of few words, Marilyn.”
 
“So what were her few words?”
 
“She’s not coming.”
 
“Are you serious?” And she thinks: you told her not to come, didn’t you? Except, she realizes, she’s actually said those words.
 
“My mother’s been through a lot. Do you blame her for not wanting to go through it again? She’s ninety-four years old.”
 
“I know how old she is.”
 
“He’s quiet.”
 
“She’s ninety-four, and she’ll live to a hundred and forty. She has a stronger constitution than any of us.”
 
She’s washing the dishes now, going at them furiously, while David is still chopping behind her, the percussive sound of him. He presses down hard on a carrot, and the top comes flying off and sails across the room. “Jesus,” he says. “Fuck! I cut myself.”
 
“Is it bad?”
 
“Bad enough.” There’s a gash in his thumb. It looks shallow at first, but now, studying it beneath the sink light, Marilyn sees it’s deeper than she realized. She takes a wad of paper towel and presses it to his hand. But the blood seeps through, so she goes to the pantry to get more paper towel, and when she returns his hands are shaking.
 
“Are you all right?”
 
“I don’t know.” He sits down on the stool and she’s above him now, attending to him. She runs his hand under cold water. The blood drips off him and into the sink, down into the garbage disposal along with the vegetable peel and citrus rind, swirling around like beet juice. She comes back with tape and a gauze pad and bandages him up.
 
“Slicing and Dicing 101, huh? They should have flunked me out.”
 
She presses her hands around his, wrapping him in gauze, as if she’s taping up a fighter. “How am I doing, doctor?”
 
She forces out a smile. She’s an internist by training, but she did a second residency, in infectious disease. He has come to the wrong specialist. “You’re lucky you don’t need stitches.”
 
“Do I need them?”
 
“I think I staunched the flow.”
 
She guides him upstairs and into their old bedroom. She has him in their bathroom beneath the flickering lights, and David is saying, “We need to replace that bulb. And the mirror,” he adds. “It has a crack in it. Hairline fracture.”
 
But she’s focused only on the task at hand, urging him to remain still. She takes off the bandage, which is shot through with blood, and wraps his hand again.
 
You’re as good as new, she wants to say, but her breath catches on the words. They’re out of the bathroom, and now David, in his white gym socks, is sitting on their old bed; tentatively, she settles herself beside him. One of his socks has a hole in it, and his big toe pokes out, white as a marshmallow nub. Through the window, she can see the tennis court still dotted with balls, lumpy as dough in the moonlight. Clean up, clean up. The girls will be coming soon, and they might want to play. “How are you feeling?”
 
“I’m all right.”
 
She’s quiet.
 
“Time to hit the hay.”
 
She nods. At home in the city, they’ve been sleeping in separate bedrooms, but this is the first time they’ve been back here, up in Lenox, alone together. It seems that David has claimed their old bedroom. Squatter’s rights. Though she, in fairness, is a squatter, too. She’s also, she understands, the bad guy here. David’s suitcase is on the floor at his feet; a shoe tree spills out of it, and a can of shaving cream.
 
“Good night,” she says.
 
He gives her a quick nod.
 
She turns softly on her heels and heads down the hall. When she comes back a few minutes later, David is already asleep. There he is, her husband, and she feels a momentary heartbreak, knowing she’s not supposed to be looking at him, that somehow she’s not entitled. But she continues to stand there, tears falling down her face. She’s back in their house in Larchmont, back in other houses and apartments, remembering hallways, portals, a domed ceiling high above the family dinner table, bedrooms whose configurations she can only dimly recall outside of which she used to stand at night quietly watching her children sleep—and later, listening to David breathe softly beside her, and she, a stealthy presence among the reposed, careful not to disturb the sleep of a loved one.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher

“Insightful. . . . Poignant. . . . Elegant.”
The New York Times Book Review

“A wonderful novel. . . . I just love it.”
—Anne Lamott, The Miami Herald

“Moving.” 
—O, The Oprah Magazine

“A keenly observed and compassionate novel. . . . Tenderness spills from these pages.”
Entertainment Weekly

“[A] densely detailed and touching portrait.”
People

“[Henkin] grounds his novel in both time and place, creating a living, breathing world. . . . Gorgeously written.”
The Boston Globe

“Few American novelists, living or dead, have ever been as good as Henkin at drawing people.”
—Commentary Magazine

“Intimate and insightful. . . . Reminds us that families are icebergs, with nine-tenths of their emotions just below the surface, capable of wreaking havoc when struck.”
—San Francisco Chronicle

“Witty, poignant, and heartfelt.”
—Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story

“In the course of [a] long weekend, old and new tensions . . . bubble to the surface. It could be the plot of a Chekhov play or a Woody Allen movie. But on this classic narrative scaffolding, Joshua Henkin develops a painfully contemporary situation. . . . The skill with which Henkin explores the points of view and personae of his ensemble cast is masterful.”
Newsday

“Moving.”
Vanity Fair

“Henkin is a writer of voluminous heart, humanity, and talent.”
—Julia Glass, author of The Widower’s Tale

“Masterful . . . . Here are Tanglewood concerts overheard, fireflies, skinny-dipping, an intense tennis game, fireworks, jalapeno-lime corn on the cob and white gazpacho. Henkin gets all the details just right. Think ‘The Big Chill,’ family style.”
—The New York Jewish Week

“Pleasingly old-fashioned. . . . [A] warm-hearted novel.”
—The Washington Post

“A triumph and an important novel about America.”
—Yiyun Li, author of Gold Boy, Emerald Girl

“In 2005, if a novelist had published a book that hinged on the murder of a Jewish American journalist by Islamic terrorists in Iraq, it would have been read as a political novel, a war novel, a post-9/11 novel—and, of course, a roman a clef about Daniel Pearl. . . . Yet the passage of time has made it possible for Henkin to turn this headline-news premise into a book that is quiet, inward-turning, and largely apolitical. . . . Henkin is a novelist of distinguished gifts.”
Tablet

“An immeasurably moving masterpiece.”
—Heidi Julavits, author of The Vanishers

“Henkin takes no sides in his novel. He simply presents his characters as they are, as they think, as they feel, how they interact and lets it all reveal whatever it may. . . . A novel for mature readers—those who like fiction providing insight into how people actually live.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“[Resembles] Richard Ford’s luminescent novel The Sportswriter. . . . Wonderful. . . . Powerful.”
The Rumpus

“The American family in crisis has long represented rich source material for writers, from Hawthorne to Morrison. In his deeply felt new novel, Joshua Henkin offers his contemporary contribution. . . . [Characters] leap uncensored off the page as powerful and fully realized human beings, rather than types. . . . Heartfelt.”
The Miami Herald

“Marvelous on the solitudes that exist even within the strongest and most compassionate of families.”
—Jim Shepard, author of You Think That’s Bad

 “Gives us a welcome portrait of the repercussions of faraway wars on people who usually consider themselves to be spectators. . . . Compassionate and beguiling.”
—NPR Books

 “Point this one out to contemporary fiction fans of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, or the works of Rick Moody, Richard Russo, Philip Roth, and John Updike.”
—Library Journal

Meet the Author

Joshua Henkin is the author of the novels Matrimony, a New York Times Notable Book, and Swimming Across the Hudson, a Los Angeles Times Notable Book and The World Without You, winner of the 2012 Edward Lewis Wallant Award for Jewish American Fiction and a Finalist for the 2012 National Jewish Book Award. His short stories have been published widely, cited for distinction in Best American Short Stories, and broadcast on NPR's "Selected Shorts." He lives in Brooklyn, NY, and directs the MFA program in Fiction Writing at Brooklyn College.

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The World Without You: A Novel 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 45 reviews.
cider12 More than 1 year ago
I was not sure if I should read this book or not because it very much reflects my own life. My son was also killed in Iraq in 2005. Our family (which consists of 3 daughters and another son) will simply never be the same - my husband and I have a relationship that mimics David's and Marilyn's. Shall I stay or shall I go? I highlighted so much of this book because so much of it rang true. I hit tennis balls with the same vengeance that Marilyn does - an exorcism of sorts, I suspect. I wrote letters, visited congressmen, spoke at anti-war events for the first couple of years... and then I just felt defeated. My husband works, at his job - but not with the same commitment that he once had. After all, Michael was supposed to take over the business. He is physically always in motion - fixing and CHOPPING, just like David. My girls run - for themselves and for Michael. I am quite amazed that Joshua Henkins could capture the emotions that he does in this novel - but I related to every page that he wrote.
SincerelyStacie More than 1 year ago
Three years ago, our book club had an opportunity to chat with Joshua Henkin and discuss his book MATRIMONY. We had a great time chatting and discussing the book with him and also talking about writing in general. When Joshua Henkin contacted me to read and review his newest novel, I jumped at the chance. I was drawn into the family's different levels of dysfunction as well as their grief over the loss of their son and brother. But, what I wasn't drawn into was the overt liberal rhetoric throughout the novel. The Bush-Hate was so strong and blatant that it actually started to turn me off on the novel. It made me wonder if this was the author's way to get his political views out to the world. I understand there are people in our country who have strong opinions about the war and it was definitely feasible that the characters in this story would feel this way. But, it felt over the top at times. For those with a conservative view, it could be a turn-off. I tried to ignore the political talk and focus instead on the family dynamics and the characters individual stories. The level of grief each family member was feeling was very real for me and I felt their pain and hesitations with each other. Their stories were well written and developed and I felt a connection to each one. If you are looking for a story with a huge climax and page-turning drama, this won't be for you. But if you are looking for a relaxing family story for a lazy summer day, this would be a great choice.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Politics made me put this book down. It could have been good.......but l don't care about your political views as an author. I stopped going to concerts of some of my favorite groups for the same reason .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Vivid, well-drawn characters, but this book really drags. No fresh insights. Ultimately it's kind of boring.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was determined to finish this book though I lost interest early on. During my last attempt I looked for the page number I was on and I was only on page 72 (not half through). I love to read and enjoy different type books. This was one of the few I just could not finish.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I DONT GET WHY PEOPLE HAVE TO WRITE THE WHOLE STORY IN A BOOK REVIEW!! YOUR SUPPOSED TO SAY IF U LIKE IT OR NOT.... NOT GIVE AWAY THE WHOLE STORY!!! STOP ALRRADY
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am at page 200. The Bush thing is so old and boring. The daughters are so yucky. The family involved are so tiresome after a few chapters. Gone Girl is my favorite so far. Maybe !eo offed himself so he wouldnt have to deal with his sisters.
Catwoman63 More than 1 year ago
An interesting read. The problem is, it doesn't really go anywhere. I was waiting for a big thing to happen, and it never really does, just falls flat. I also had a lot of trouble keeping track of two out of the three daughters, only one out of the three really made an impression and I totally knew her story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Too lengthy and boring
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
i think the the book was flat.  i could certainly identify w/ this family's dysfunctionality but that's the book.  most of the characters were well developed but the storyline just didn't excite me. 
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A nice read that keeps you coming back for ore.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An honest, quiet picture of family dynamics from so many angles. Reminded me a lot of "This is Where I Leave You" by Jonothan Tropper, but more subdued....not depressing, just thoughtful.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Every once in a while you find a book written in such a way that you want to savor it...make it last...like an excellent meal...small bites. This is one of those books. It is a family drama. They are anti-Bush WITH GOOD REASON as shown in the narrative. The story focuses on The World Without You...the You being Leo Frankel, a journalist taken hostage and killed in Iraq. It is a year later and his family gather for a memorial service. It is a novel about fictional characters but I will miss the extended Frankel family. Their story is delicious.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The_Book_Wheel_Blog More than 1 year ago
Poignant. Heartbreaking. Touching. There are a lot of words I could use to describe this book, but the one that seems the most applicable is familiar. This is not because I can identify or even begin to imagine what the family has been through, but because the characters were all so very approachable. Rarely does a book draw the reader into the folds of its story so seamlessly as this one does. The World Without You is about a family that is falling apart after the death of their son, brother and husband, Leo. Captured and killed while working as a journalist in Iraq, Leo’s funeral was overridden by the press one year earlier and the family has chosen to memorialize him in a small ceremony in his favorite Berkshires town in Massachusetts. Told through alternating perspectives, The World Without You holds nothing back in its portrayal of a family that is slowly disintegrating. The author, Joshua Henkin, does a wonderful job of navigating the waters of real family battles while respecting the perspectives of each. There were no favorites, nor were there any overly dramatic moments to sully the underlying tone of authenticity.What I love about this book is that it is relatable. Anyone who has argued with siblings or felt chastised by in-laws will be able to identify with this book, whether or not they have lost a close family member. It oozes sincerity without the cheesiness that often accompanies that emotion, and it has moved into one of my favorite books of the year.
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