The second novel from the Brooklyn-based author of Swimming Across the Hudson (1997) is an appealing story of romance, wedlock, personal and spousal conflict and growth.
Its principals are handsome, idealistic Julian Wainwright, son of a wealthy New York investment banker, and beautiful Mia Mendelsohn (“Mia of Montreal”). They meet in 1987 at Graymont College in western Massachusetts, a bastion of progressive and permissive liberalism. The two fall quickly and decisively in love, and marry hastily, while Mia’s beloved mother, stricken with breast cancer, is still alive to attend their wedding. Thereafter, they part, hesitantly reunite, then eventually accept that they belong together, as Julian pursues his lifelong dream of writing serious literary fiction and Mia becomes a Manhattan psychotherapist—and they finally produce the child they had put off conceiving for more than 15 years. The novel is best in its early pages, set during their Graymont years; studded with eccentric details and moments that recall Julian’s favorite author, John Cheever (e.g., the manner in which Julian drifts into becoming a walker of other people’s dogs). Julian’s college roommate Carter Heinz, a pugnacious Californian who postures like a lower-middle-class Oscar Wilde, has some good moments, as does irascible Professor Chesterfield, their fiction-writing teacher. In fact, the pages devoted to Mia’s and Julian’s young adulthood radiate the kind of offbeat shoulder-shrugging charm that made Michael Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh so memorable. But the book slows to a crawl as each of its several major relationships becomes freighted with complications that are analyzed in lengthy explanatory conversations. Henkin recovers just in time, though, as Mia and Julian face together trials that neither can handle alone and achieve a conventional happy ending that does strike the relieved reader as the logical consequence of the depth of their mutual feelings.
Ragged, but it gets to you and stays with you. Expect even better things from Henkin in the future.