Friday, September 5, 2008

Joshua Henkin

Joshua Henkin latest novel, now available in paperback, is the widely-acclaimed Matrimony.

He is also the author of the novel Swimming Across the Hudson, which was named a Los Angeles Times notable book of the year. His short stories have been published in Glimmer Train, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, The Yale Review, Triquarterly, DoubleTake, The North American Review, The New England Review, Boulevard, and elsewhere.

Late last month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I spent the beginning of this summer moving my family back to Brooklyn, where we generally live, from Philadelphia, where we were living last year, so in June and July I was doing lots of little bursts of reading between unpacking boxes. Short stories ended up serving me well, particularly because this fall I’ll be teaching several collections I haven’t taught before. Charles D’Ambrosio is one of my favorite writers, and I was rereading The Dead Fish Museum, and also reading Colm Tóibín’s wonderful collection of stories Mothers and Sons, which my colleague Joan Silber, a terrific short story writer herself, recommended to me.

When I got the chance to read something longer, I turned to Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, a book so praised by everyone I came to it with a jaded eye, but it really is as good as people are saying. A marriage is foundering, with September 11 as the backdrop, and the novel explores and explodes that marriage, while also depicting an unusual friendship between two men nurtured on a mutual love of cricket. In the process, Netherland is a love song to the city of New York, as seen through the eyes of a non-native. James Wood was right to call it one of the best post-colonial novels ever written.

Reading O’Neill’s book made me go back to reread another 9/11 marriage novel, A Day at the Beach by Helen Schulman, which I really liked when I first read it and still do. Schulman is a graceful, lovely writer, and the book is an excellent example of how to write a novel that takes place in compressed time. And speaking of Wood, I’ve just begun his new book of criticism, How Fiction Works.

Another novel I read this summer was The Master Bedroom by Tessa Hadley. I’ve long admired Hadley’s short stories, many of which have appeared in The New Yorker, and my wife read and liked an earlier Hadley novel, but I had never read a novel of hers before. The Master Bedroom has all the things I’ve come to expect in Hadley’s work: acute, understated prose, deep psychological insight, and a sense of lurking terror beneath the smooth surface of things. It’s a novel about many things, but perhaps principally it’s a kind of unwitting love triangle between a middle-aged woman and a father and his teenage son. The love affair with the teenager is terrifically evoked, as is the despair and ambivalence the protagonist feels taking care of her elderly mother.

Next on my list: A Person of Interest by Susan Choi.
Read an excerpt from Matrimony, and learn more about the novel and its author at Joshua Henkin's website and his blog.

The Page 69 Test: Matrimony.

--Marshal Zeringue