Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Review: The World Without You - Joshua Henkin

The Blurb: 
It's July 4th, 2005, and the Frankel family is descending upon their beloved summer home in the Berkshires. But this is no ordinary holiday: the family is gathering for a memorial. Leo, the youngest of the four Frankel siblings and an intrepid journalist and adventurer, was killed one year ago while on assignment in Iraq. His parents, Marilyn and David, are adrift in grief, and it's tearing apart their forty-year marriage. Clarissa, the eldest, is struggling at thirty-nine with infertility. Lily, a fiery-tempered lawyer, is angry about everything. Noelle, a born-again Orthodox Jew (and the last person to see Leo alive), has come in from Israel with her husband and four children and feels entirely out of place. And Thisbe--Leo's widow and mother of their three-year-old son--has arrived from California bearing her own secret. Over the course of three days, the Frankels will contend with sibling rivalries and marital feuds, volatile women and silent men, and, ultimately, with the true meaning of family.

What I thought:

This one could have been a dreary, dragging soap-opera of a story.  Instead Joshua Henkin has given us an engrossing character study of a family torn apart by grief.  As the individuals come back to the scene of some of their happiest times together, they can't seem to let go of the unhappiness each one feels at losing their brother, husband, son.  Instead of reaching out to others for support, they seem to want to play the "my grief is worse than yours" game, and continue to pile their melancholy and inability to cope on each other.  At first I was angry at being subjected to all this grief, but then I began to see each person as an individual, and Henkin gives us wonderful back stories to allow us into the minds, hearts, and grievings of each member of the family, and helps us to see all the interactions, hopes and dreams  of yesterday as well as the disappointments and unmet expectations of today as we stumble through the three days with each family member.

When I finished I did wish the ending had been more crisp, but then realized that the author intended this to be as close to real life as possible, leaving his characters with some hope, some dread, some dreams, and at least the opportunity to work through the sorrow to a better future.

It's hopeful, graceful, sorrowful, damning and affirming all at once.  A great one for your summer reading pile, and one to return to again after it sits for awhile.  It goes on sale today.  Enjoy.
Author: Joshua Henkin
Publisher-Format: Pantheon, e galley, 283 pages
Year of publication: 2012
Subject: Grief, family dynamics
Setting: Vacation home in the Berkshires
Genre: fiction
Source: publisher via Net Galley


  1. Vacation home in the Berkshires appeals to me:)

  2. I've been reading great things about this book! And I was very taken with your assessment of the end. Can't wait to read it!

  3. I admit, when I read the intro I feared a soap-opera..glad it rose above that.


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