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The World without You [NOOK Book]


***National Jewish Book Awards 2012, Finalist***
      JJ Greenberg Memorial Award for Fiction

From the author of the New York Times Notable Book Matrimony ["Beautiful . . . Brilliant."—Michael Cunningham], a moving, mesmerizing new novel about love, loss, and the aftermath of a family tragedy.

It’s July 4, ...
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The World without You

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***National Jewish Book Awards 2012, Finalist***
      JJ Greenberg Memorial Award for Fiction

From the author of the New York Times Notable Book Matrimony ["Beautiful . . . Brilliant."—Michael Cunningham], a moving, mesmerizing new novel about love, loss, and the aftermath of a family tragedy.

It’s July 4, 2005, and the Frankel family is descending upon their beloved summer home in the Berkshires. But this is no ordinary holiday. The family has gathered to memorialize Leo, the youngest of the four siblings, an intrepid journalist and adventurer who was killed on that day in 2004, while on assignment in Iraq.

The parents, Marilyn and David, are adrift in grief. Their forty-year marriage is falling apart. Clarissa, the eldest sibling and a former cello prodigy, has settled into an ambivalent domesticity and is struggling at age thirty-nine to become pregnant. Lily, a fiery-tempered lawyer and the family contrarian, is angry at everyone. And Noelle, whose teenage years were shadowed by promiscuity and school expulsions, has moved to Jerusalem and become a born-again Orthodox Jew. The last person to see Leo alive, Noelle has flown back for the memorial with her husband and four children, but she feels entirely out of place. And Thisbe —Leo’s widow and mother of their three-year-old son—has come from California bearing her own secret.

Set against the backdrop of Independence Day and the Iraq War, The World Without You is a novel about sibling rivalries and marital feuds, about volatile women and silent men, and, ultimately, about the true meaning of family.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A family melodrama that encompasses both tragedy and farce, as an upper-middle-class clan gathers to mourn a dead son and perhaps move on. When conventionalists claim, "They don't write novels like that anymore," this is the sort of novel they mean. Yet the very familiarity and durability of the setup suggests that the traditional novel remains very much alive and healthy as well, if the narrative momentum and depth of character here are proof of vitality. As suggested by his previous novel, the generically titled Matrimony (2007), Henkin isn't the type to offer literary surprises. The novel transpires over a holiday weekend, which sees an extended family reuniting to mark the first anniversary of the death of the beloved son, a journalist killed in Iraq. As you'd expect, someone will say things that have previously been left unsaid. Someone will come to terms with the past in a way that puts the future in fresh perspective. Each member of the family will have a heart-to-heart conversation with every other one. By the end of the weekend, things will have changed. The particulars: The son's death has proven so difficult for his mother to overcome that she wants to divorce her husband (who has been mourning in a different way). The oldest daughter and her husband, a celebrated academic, have a "workmanlike marriage," though her brother's death makes her want what she previously didn't, to have children. The second daughter has been with her partner for more than a decade and seems more fulfilled than her married sisters. The youngest daughter now lives in Israel as an Orthodox Jew with her recently unemployed husband, though her promiscuity had made her a scandal in her formative years. The son's widow has fallen in love. A very rich grandmother hovers over the plot. Which relationships will endure, which will collapse, and which will change over the course of a long weekend? A novel that satisfies all expectations in some very familiar ways.
The Washington Post
Henkin is a pleasingly old-fashioned novelist who takes his time in exploring his characters' emotions and their fraught connections to one another. The intricate bonds of family were the subject of his previous two novels…but he widens his focus here to encompass multiple points of view, drawing us into the thoughts of almost every adult in the extended clan…What interests [Henkin] is the texture of everyday existence and the constantly shifting human relationships embedded in it: the slip of the tongue over a child's name that stakes a grandmother's claim, the collective solving of a crossword puzzle that infuriates a slower-witted in-law, a brutally competitive tennis match that unexpectedly reconfigures the family dynamic. Those who have resorted to such passive-aggressive tactics with their own relatives will laugh and wince in recognition at Henkin's perfectly calibrated measurements of intramural jockeying.
—Wendy Smith
From the Publisher
“Henkin is the master of the post-modern domestic novel. . . . [The World Without You] is a novel of brilliant insinuation, portraying the complex interiors of its characters and the worlds they inhabit. . . . [Henkin] has reinvented the domestic novel and in the process crated a work that gives coherent voice to the cacophony in the hearts and minds of a family torn by grief and divided over their Judaism.”
The Jerusalem Report

“Insightful. . . . Poignant. . . . [Henkin]move[s] elegantly from one perspective to another. . . . Although the cast is large, you get to know them deeply, like real people. . . . Henkin brings them to a moving resolution that feels authentically possible. . . . The World Without You shows how loss forces people to reconceive of themselves, a painful but necessary transformation.”
 —The New York Times Book Review
“Pleasingly old-fashioned. . . . Henkin never lets [his] story turn into a debate about the war in Iraq or the merits of Orthodox Judaism. What interests him is the texture of everyday existence and the constantly shifting human relationships embedded in it: the slip of the tongue over a child’s name that stakes a grandmother’s claim, the collective solving of a crossword puzzle that infuriates a slower-witted in-law, a brutally competitive tennis match that unexpectedly reconfigures the family dynamic. Those who have resorted to such passive-aggressive tactics with their own relatives will laugh and wince in recognition at Henkin’s perfectly calibrated measurements of intramural jockeying. . . . [A] warm-hearted novel.”
—The Washington Post

“[I]t's damn difficult to make the basic unhappy-family novel distinctly one's own. Henkin does so with a one-two combination of strengths: psychological empathy for his realistic characters, and an expository modesty that draws attention away from the skilled writing itself . . . in order to focus, with great care, on the subtleties and complications of familial love. . . . Tenderness spills from these pages.”
Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly
“Heart-searing, eye-tearing, and soul-touching”
Nina Sankovitch, The Huffington Post
“Blazingly alive. . . . [Henkin] grounds his novel in both time and place, creating a living, breathing world. . . . Gorgeously written, and as beautifully detailed as a tapestry, Henkin delicately probes what these family members really mean to one another. . . . [C]ompassionate, intelligent, and shining”
Caroline Leavitt, The Boston Globe

“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 . . . tenderly explores family dynamics in this novel about the ties that bind, and even lacerate.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“[A] densely detailed and touching portrait”
—People Magazine

The World Without You gives us a welcome portrait of the repercussions of faraway wars on people who usually consider themselves to be spectators. . . . [P]owerful and unexpected . . . compassionate and beguiling.”
Jane Ciabattari, 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
“Could be the plot of a Chekhov play or a Woody Allen movie. . . . [The book explores] with subtlety and feeling the meaning of family, both those we are born with and those we choose, those we leave behind and those with whom we soldier on.”
Marion Winik, Newsday
“Pleasingly old-fashioned. . . . [A] warm-hearted novel.”
Wendy Smith, The Washington Post
“[A] moving novel.”
Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair
“[D]eeply felt . . . striking . . . vivid. . . . [T]he novel is permeated with small moments of restored intimacy. There’s a lot of tender feeling here for the American family, on the ropes for sure, but well worth fighting for, Henkin’s heartfelt novel insists.”
Andrew Furman, The Miami Herald
“The members of the Frankel family seem unhappy enough, in their own individual ways, but it also seems as if happiness has never really been an option for them, as if it were an item that had somehow been left off the menu of life. . . . [The] little details, in fact, the bits and pieces of choice and circumstance, fortune and misfortune, that make up the mosaic of each individual's life, is what this subtle and ingenious novel is about. . . . [A] novel for mature readers — those who like fiction providing insight into how people actually live.”
Frank Wilson, The Philadelphia Inquirer
“[I]ntimate and insightful. . . . In The World Without You, Henkin . . . reminds us that families are icebergs, with nine-tenths of their emotions just below the surface, capable of wreaking havoc when struck.”
Glenn C. Altschuler, San Francisco Chronicle
“Henkin juggles [his] large cast of characters with ease, telling a poignant story while maintaining each unique identity. This is no small trick, as the characters are neither perfect nor perfectly unlikeable. They are, in the end, a family. They do what families do, which is a complex dance of happy and sad, of distance and intimacy.”
Robin Vidimos, The Denver Post
“[A] poignant and moving novel. . . . Henkin is a polished writer with an eye for detail . . . but where he really shines is in how he tenderly reveals each character’s complex personality, layer by layer. . . . [A] moving story and a good read, and, from start to finish, deeply honest.”
Abigail Pickus, The Times of Israel
“Henkin is a master at letting his characters emerge in subtle but captivating ways. . . . [A] deeply woven and affecting novel about grief.”
Wingate Packard, The Seattle Times
“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, who died in 2002 in Pakistan. Seven years later, Joshua Henkin has published just such a book in The World Without You, which is set in 2005 on the anniversary of the murder of Leo Frankel, whose story closely mirrors Pearl’s. . . . 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.”
Adam Kirsch, Tablet
“Henkin inhabits each character with ease and vibrancy.”
—New York Daily News
“Henkin's prose is as smooth and clear as a morning lake. You want to dip back in for the specificity of detail and feelings evoked. . . . The World Without Youis a study of close relationships, typified by warmth and wit. The characters are sympathetic and flawed, drawn with compassionate strokes. . . . [T]he narrative builds tiers of tension that break unexpectedly into dramatic action, like blocks in a Jenga tower.”
Jackie Reitzes, Minneapolis Star Tribune
—Oprah Magazine
“Henkin has achieved something uncommon with The World Without You: a 21st-century novel that deals with contemporary politics in a sensitive and dignified way without being cynical, bombastic or melodramatic. . . . Its backdrop is current, but its focus − the bonds and rifts that make family life meaningful − is timeless.”
Shana Rosenblatt Mauer, English-Language Haaretz
“Compelling and insightful”
—Readers Digest
“Few American novelists, living or dead, have ever been as good as Henkin at drawing people.”
—Commentary Magazine
“Deeply human.”
—More Magazine
The World Without You, Joshua Henkin’s new book, is that rare breed: the twenty-first century domestic novel. . . . Powerful.”
—The Rumpus
“An immeasurably moving masterpiece”
—Heidi Julavits, author of The Vanishers
“I can't imagine a world without Joshua Henkin.”
—Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story
“This book is a triumph and an important novel about America.”
—Yiyun Li, author of Gold Boy, Emerald Girl
“Henkin is a writer of voluminous heart, humanity, and talent.”
—Julia Glass, author of The Widower's Tale
“Marvelous on the solitudes that exist even within the strongest and most compassionate of families.”
—Jim Shepard, author of You Think That's Bad

Library Journal
The Frankel family has gathered at their summer home in the Berkshires to attend a memorial service for their youngest sibling, Leo, who was killed while reporting in Iraq. Parents Marilyn and David are struggling with their 40-year marriage while three daughters wrestle with infertility, unemployment, urban ennui, and assorted relationship tensions. Leo's widow, Thisbe, and young son Calder fly in from California with news of their own. For the few days surrounding July 4, 2005, the family members struggle with their shared pasts, uncertain futures, and each other. VERDICT Henkin (director of Brooklyn College's MFA program in fiction writing, Matrimony; Swimming Across the Hudson) might gain some new readers with this honest and well-paced look at an American family. 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.—Jenn B. Stidham, Houston Community Coll. Northeast
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307907561
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/19/2012
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 120,218
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Joshua Henkin
JOSHUA HENKIN is the author of the novels Swimming Across the Hudson (a Los Angeles Times Notable Book) and Matrimony (a New York Times Notable Book). His stories have been published widely, cited for distinction in Best American Short Stories and broadcast on NPR's Selected Shorts. He directs the MFA Program in Fiction Writing at Brooklyn College.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt

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.”
“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.”
“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.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of The World Without You, Joshua Henkin’s mesmerizing new novel.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 47 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 47 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 12, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I was not sure if I should read this book or not because it very

    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.

    22 out of 24 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 19, 2012

    Three years ago, our book club had an opportunity to chat with J

    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.

    19 out of 24 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2012

    I haven't read the book and don't intend to now that I read the

    I haven't read the book and don't intend to now that I read the review by book club mom. I was planning to read it, I like a good dysfunctional family story. But to hear that is so politically biased turned me off. and I'm not even conservative. But I hate when writers of novels dilute their work with their own political bias. Why not write nonfiction then?

    11 out of 35 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2012

    Why do they do this

    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 .

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2012

    Vivid, well-drawn characters, but this book really drags. No fre

    Vivid, well-drawn characters, but this book really drags. No fresh insights. Ultimately it's kind of boring.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2012



    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2012


    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.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2012


    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.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 26, 2012

    Joshua Henkin's book, The World Without You, the sentences-the c

    Joshua Henkin's book, The World Without You, the sentences-the craft of writing-disappear. I had trouble picking out moments when the point of view in the book shifted from character to character, let alone picking out a stand-out sentence. The writing is almost invisible here, and so it transports the reader. I spent the better part of last weekend on the couch with this book, but although I was on a couch in Queens, I felt like I was in a vacation house in the Berkshires over the 4th of July, getting ready for a memorial service for my journalist brother/husband/son who'd been killed in Iraq. I was immersed. Josh's writing disappears so that the experience is seamless-you open his book and you suddenly aren't you anymore. You're in his world. Tricky word play would pull the reader right out and despite the sadness pervasive in this book, I'll bet that when you read it you'd rather be in than out.

    One of the delicious aspects of this book is that the reader alone is privy to both what is in each of the characters' heads and hearts as well as what they think of, and say about, each other. The reader becomes the one trusted confident in a tense household of people who love each other and yet withhold their full selves.

    The magical construction of this book-how did the points of view shift so often, without being confusing, often mid-chapter?-impressed me, as did Josh's incredible imagination. This isn't fight-to-the-death, wizards and sparkly vampire sort of imagination (do I sound old and grumpy with that? also can you tell I haven't read any of those books?), but it is imagination that creates whole worlds nonetheless. Each character in the novel-and there are many-had a fully realized past, present and in some cases, future. I guarantee that if you asked Josh to recount each sisters' high school report card, he could do it-he'd know what each girl was best at, he'd also know where she'd have sat in a room if she had a choice, who she dated, what kinds of other girls she was friends with and probably what she loved to eat for snack. The details all mattered-these were real people to me as I was reading about them. So real that their small dramas mattered to me like my friends' dramas do, or even like my own do. There was a big, important, political and tragic death at the heart of this novel, but orbiting it were many medium-sized tragedies (infertility, divorce) and tiny ones, too (bonding moments thwarted, feelings hurt).

    There's a real treat on the last page of this novel, which I won't give away, but it is a leap that felt like a gift from Josh to his readers, many of whom, like me, were (will be!) probably very sorry to finish his book. It was a gift that let me imagine that these characters didn't finish living when I finished reading them, but continue on, somewhere in the world.

    3 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 11, 2013

    Not Bad, Not Amazing

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2013

    Not really worth your time

    Too lengthy and boring

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 16, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Poignant. Heartbreaking. Touching. There are a lot of words I co

    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.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2013

    i think the the book was flat.  i could certainly identify w/ th

    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. 

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2013

    Good read

    A nice read that keeps you coming back for ore.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2013


    This book had a great premise with the making of a really good story, unfortunatly it feel very flat. The writing style was very disjointed, the characters unbeleivable, didn't connect with any of them.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2013

    Quiet, in the best way

    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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2013


    Every once in a while you find a book written in such a way that you want to savor it...make it 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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2012

    Highly recommended

    A very enjoyable beautiful book about family and LOVE!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 14, 2012

    This is a book about a family coming to terms with the loss of a

    This is a book about a family coming to terms with the loss of a loved one. The Frankel fsmily gather at their home summer home in the Berkshires a year after their son and brother, a journalist was killed in Iraq. Leo's widow and son alson join them. They are each still in pain and it is also affecting their personal lives and relationships. This was a well-written storyline with characters that could be your own family.

    Thank you Net Galley and Pantheon Books.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 6, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Some books are all about plot, some are more character studies.

    Some books are all about plot, some are more character studies. Joshua Henkin's novel, The World Without You falls in the latter category.

    The Frankel family, father David and mother Marilyn, are preparing for the arrival of their three daughters, Lily, Clarissa and Noelle, along with their spouses and children, and their daughter-in-law Thisbe with her young son for a memorial service for their son Leo, a journalist murdered last year covering the Iraq War.

    The story revolves around how Leo's death has affected the family. Marilyn, a doctor, turned outward; she consistently wrote op-ed pieces for newspapers against the war and worked on John Kerry's presidential campaign. David turned inward, taking up running to deal with his loss.

    Marilyn decides that it is too painful to stay married to David and asks him for a divorce; he is devastated by the request. Marilyn intends to tell the family while they are visiting for the memorial, and they are completely blindsided by this announcement.

    Henkin makes this characters so real that reading this novel felt like I was eavesdropping on this family during a particularly tough time. They are complicated people, who make mistakes and love and fight and misunderstand and are misunderstood; you know, just like your own family.

    "Noelle is her sister, but the fact is they can't stand each other, and when Lily feels uncomfortable she goes for high drama; histrionics is her point at rest."
    After a wild, promiscuous adolescence, Noelle moved to Israel, married and became an Orthodox Jew, closely following all rules. She felt that "she was peeling layers of herself, molting an identity she had wanted to molt for years and hadn't realized she was capable of molting."

    Clarissa "didn't say a word until she turned three, at which point she began to speak in full sentences. She suspects the story is exaggerated, but it gets at an essential truth about her." Lily "throws herself into things, whereas (Clarissa's) a watcher, she's cautious, she's a student first and she doesn't like to make mistakes."

    Henkin's describes his characters as they see themselves and as they are seen by the people who knew them best- their siblings. Anyone with siblings will get that right away.

    Thisbe describes what it's like to be a widow:
    "Everyone, she thinks, wants to know about the milestones- Leo's birthday, their anniversary- those are hard, of course, but it's the everyday things that are the toughest. When she used to shop for groceries, she would get this cereal Leo liked, Great Grains Raisins, Dates and Pecans, and she mustn't have been thinking because a couple of months she ended up with a box in her shopping cart."
    Describing what's it's like to become part of the Frankels, Thisbe says:
    "That's one of the things that appealed to me about Leo- the tumult of you Frankels, as if in your presence I am being swallowed by a many-tentacled beast and made into a tentacle myself. Clarissa, Lily and Noelle- you were older by the time I came along, but I still felt that in marrying Leo I was getting you as sisters and when he died, I lost you too. I know that losing a husband is different from losing a sibling, and it's especially different from losing a son."
    That paragraph states the theme of this beautiful, insightful novel- loss is different for everyone, and in The World Without You, we see how parents, siblings and spouses deal with that loss and the life that goes on.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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