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Winner of the 2012 Wallant Award for Jewish American 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.
“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
“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. . . . [Henkin] provides the truest answers, showing what really makes or breaks the Frankels, and what binds mother to children, husband to wife, and sibling to sibling. . . . [C]ompassionate, intelligent, and shining.” –Caroline Leavitt, The Boston Globe
“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 WorldWithout You is a study of close relationships, typified by warmth and wit. The characters are sympathetic and flawed, drawn with compassionate strokes. . . . Henkin's authorial touch is never heavy-handed. Rather, the narrative builds tiers of tension that break unexpectedly into dramatic action, like blocks in a Jenga tower.” –Jackie Reitzes, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“What sets this novel apart is the way it so deftly plumbs each character’s internal landscape while managing to tell a compelling story. . . . 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 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. Moreover, it is an old-fashioned story about the love, happiness, tension and anger that can inform family relationships. Its backdrop is current, but its focus—the bonds and rifts that make family life meaningful—is timeless.” —Shana Rosenblatt Mauer, Haaretz
“Tolstoy famously declared that ‘every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ 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. All the big things are affected by the tiny shifts taking place among the particles that lie beneath them and of which they are composed. . . . Henkin takes no sides in his novel. He simply presents his characters as they are, as they think, as they feel, how they interact and lets it all reveal whatever it may. . . . Deep down, perhaps even unbeknownst to its author, The World Without You may well be a novel of faith. It is certainly a novel for mature readers – those who like fiction providing insight into how people actually live.” —Frank Wilson, The Philadelphia Inquirer
“The Frankel family is one of privilege. . . . They've scattered, geographically and philosophically. Gentile, Jew and non-believer, liberal and conservative, successful and not so much, they share the bonds of family and heartbreak. . . . Henkin juggles this 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. Each is muddling through as best he and she can, and the heartbreak of the last year has concentrated the essence of each character. In the end, it is that essence, held at each character's core, that keeps the family from spinning out of control.” —Robin Vidimos, The Denver Post
“The American family in crisis has long represented rich source material for writers, from Hawthorne to Morrison. In his deeply felt new novel, Joshua Henkin offers his contemporary contribution to our growing library of books inspired by this theme. . . . It seems vaguely inappropriate to commend a male author for fashioning a novel around his female characters—after all, women writers imagine male protagonists as a matter of course—but Henkin’s vivid evocation of such distinctive, and often oppositional, female voices is striking, all the same. To Henkin’s credit, his main characters will either infuriate readers or enlist their sympathies. They leap uncensored off the page as powerful and fully realized human beings, rather than types. . . . Henkin is far too honest an observer of the American scene to construct a rosy or uncomplicated outcome for the Frankels. But he doesn’t give up on them, either. . . . Through it all, the 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
“What happens when someone you love dies? If you're a character in Joshua Henkin's novel, The World Without You, you go a little nuts. . . . Henkin's gentle, affectionate novel is tinged with sadness. However, it's also clear that beneath it all, what's keeping the family going is love.” —Star Tribune
“Henkin creates a powerful sense of each individual's hopes, fears and simmering aggravations, set against the evocative landscape of childhood summers. . . . [He] steers us thoughtfully through three days of missed connections, lukewarm marital sex, unpredictable arrivals and departures and Berkshire moments. . . . The World Without You gives us a welcome portrait of the repercussions of faraway wars on people who usually consider themselves to be spectators. The most powerful and unexpected effect in this compassionate and beguiling novel is not what it tells us about Leo and his final days, but how much Henkin makes us care about those he has left behind.” —Jane Ciabattari, NPR Books
“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; we’ve heard this story before. But in Henkin’s hands, the familiar turns lyrical and meaningful. If you love the work of Julia Glass, take a break and pick up this book.” —Bethanne Patrick, Book Riot
“A family assembles at its country house for a memorial to a lost son. In the course of the long weekend, old and new tensions—between husbands and wives, between parents and children, and among siblings—bubble to the surface. It could be the plot of a Chekhov play or a Woody Allen movie. But on this classic narrative scaffolding, Joshua Henkin develops a painfully contemporary situation. . . . The skill with which Henkin explores the points of view and personae of his ensemble cast is masterful. From the aging, defeated patriarch to the innocent 3-year-old. . . . Henkin depicts each in terms of his or her response to loss, both its damage and its unfolding trajectory. [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
“There’s nothing like a novel set in the recent past to remind you of how quickly things change. 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. Leo Frankel’s death is alluded to but never actually described; the particular reasons for his murder matter less than the void it has left in the lives of his family. . . . The distance from Lenox to Baghdad is so immense that what happens to Leo cannot really be admitted into the novel, or into the Frankels’ lives. . . . On the spectrum of American Jewish novelists at work today, [Henkin] is closest to the conventional realism of Allegra Goodman—a style that can look rather sedate next to more formally and thematically adventurous contemporaries like Jonathan Safran Foer and Joshua Cohen. He does not hurry his characters forward with events because he is more interested in the slowly ramifying details of their inner lives. . . . The province of fiction, he suggests, is not what happens in the world but what happens in the family, that miniature world in which all our primal experiences take place. . . . The World Without You draws the reader into those lives quietly but seductively and confirms that Henkin is a novelist of distinguished gifts.” —Adam Kirsch, Tablet
“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. . . . A novel that satisfies all expectations.” —Kirkus (starred review)
“Like 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. . . . The author has created an empathetic cast of characters that the reader will love spending time with, even as they behave like fools and hurt one another. An intelligently written novel that works as a summer read and for any other time of the year.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“An American Jewish family gathers at its summer home in the Berkshires to mourn the youngest of the four children, a journalist killed while on assignment in Iraq. Henkin excels at characterization, and he outdoes himself here in a novel that might have been called Six Characters in Search of Family Happiness.” —Commentary (Summer Reading Preview)
“Henkin imbues The World Without You with wisdom, humor, and a clear sense of history. This book is a triumph and an important novel about America.” —Yiyun Lee, author of Gold Boy, Emerald Girl
“Rich, deep, funny, and wise, this is a sumptuous layer cake of a novel whose ordinary yet urgent dramas remind us that family is where it all begins. Henkin is a writer of voluminous heart, humanity, and talent.” —Julia Glass, author of The Widower’s Tale
“An immeasurably moving masterpiece that tracks the intricate threads connecting children to parents, sisters to brothers, wives to husbands. To say I ‘cared’ about these characters would be to hugely understate their consuming effect on me.” —Heidi Julavits, author of The Vanishers
“Marvelous on the solitudes that exist even within the strongest and most compassionate of families. I love the relentlessness with which it reminds us that our politics will reach its wrecking ball into the lives of even those of us who are most comfortable.” —Jim Shepard, author of You Think That's Bad
“Witty, poignant, and heartfelt. The 4th of July will never be the same for me, nor for my fellow Americans. I can't imagine a world without Joshua Henkin.” —Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story
“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