Your Summer Reading Can Survive Without “The World Without You”

“The World Without You” author Joshua Henkin will be at Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis on Thursday, July 19th at 7:30pm to read from this book and autograph copies.

Joshua Henkin’s new novel, “The World Without You,” published by Pantheon, is a summer tale of a family gathering for the memorial on the first Yahrzeit of a journalist killed while covering the war in Iraq. Although the mother of the dead man, Leo, is obsessed with writing op-ed pieces against the war, the book isn’t political. Rather, it is a story of a family laboring under the strain of Leo’s death and the flawed relationships among the living.
Marilyn and David are the head of the Frankel family, secular Jews from New York, presiding over the unhappy family reunion at their vacation home in Lenox. After the death of their only son, David has stopped communicating with Marilyn, even as she tries to communicate with the rest of the world through her op-eds. Their marriage, like many marriages of parents who have lost a child, is on the rocks.
Their three surviving children, Clarissa, Lily, and Noelle, all head to Lenox. Clarissa is married to Nathaniel. Their relationship, too, is strained, as their efforts over the past year to conceive have failed.
Noelle has grown from a nymphomaniac teenager into an Orthodox Jew living in Israel, where she made aliyah with her American husband Amram. They bring along their four young sons, who, astonishingly, do not complain once during the novel’s course of several days about how they are forced to eat the cold kosher food brought by their parents from home while the rest of the family feasts on freshly prepared hot meals.
Amram is overbearing and Noelle is torn between being angry at him and trying to protect him from the rest of the family. They, too, have a strained marriage, which is tested even further when Amram drives off after a fight and is missing for a protracted period of time.
Lily is in a committed long-term relationship with Malcom. Although they don’t intend to marry, they seem to have the healthiest relationship of the nuclear family. Then there is Thisbe, Leo’s widow, who rounds out the awkward group, along with her son Calder.
The book is entertaining and somewhat unpredictable. I was pleasantly surprised by the portrayal of Noelle and Amram, mostly because it steers clear of most of the stereotypes of Orthodox Jews. Aside from the mention of kosher food and Amram’s tzitzit and kipah, they could be any couple would be, religious or not.
The most irritating thing about the book is that Henkin is in serious need of a continuity editor. I received an “Advance Reader’s Edition,” so maybe these errors were corrected before final publication, but I can’t make any promises.
For example, on page 100 it says, “…she doesn’t resist when he turns off the lamp,” but then on page 101 it says, “She turns off the light…” Huh? Who turned the light back on, and when? Similarly, on page 126 it says, “…and Amram is naked, too…” but on page 127 it says, “…he’s still half dressed…” So, he put some clothes back on? Why? When did that happen?
This isn’t the kind of error I look for in books – in fact, I can’t remember ever noticing this kind of continuity problem in other things I’ve read – but three or four instances like this jumped out at me in the first 150 pages or so, ruining the illusion of a real world the book was straining to create in my mind.
The novel does move along at a reasonable pace, and the characters do grow and change over the course of the memorial “vacation,” so if you come across this book this summer, it may be worth your while to pick it up and give it a try. But I can’t recommend it wholeheartedly, and I wouldn’t advise you to go out of your way to get a copy.

 *The FTC made me do it: Disclosure of Material Connection: TC Jewfolk received a free copy – and autographed, no less! – of ”The World Without You” in the hope that we would mention it on TC Jewfolk. But getting the book for free doesn’t mean that we were obligated to give a glowing review. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”