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.