This novel tells the story of Julian Wainwright, an only son from a well-to-do family. At the beginning, we meet Julian as a young man beginning his college and writing career at Graymont College, a liberal arts college that both gets him away from his parents and, to a certain extent, disappoints them at the same time. In his creative writing class, Julian meets Carter. The two are singled out by Professor Chesterfield as the stars of the class and they soon become friends. Carter grew up without those things that Julian took for granted, and no matter how close they become, there is always this socio-economic barrier between them.
Friendship and a trusted relationship with Professor Chesterfield are not the only things that Julian finds at Graymont College. It is there, while doing laundry, that Julian meets and falls in love with Mia Mendelsohn. Although the two both come from families with money, there are many differences between their experiences. Mia’s parents are quite liberal whereas Julian’s are more conservative. Mia’s family holds education and philosophical pursuits in high esteem whereas Julian’s takes pride in its corporate success. These differences, just like those that exist between Julian and Carter, don’t really manifest themselves in a meaningful way until a medical tragedy strikes. It is then that they do their best to continue moving forward, sometimes at cross purposes. It is also during that time that Julian and Mia jump into marriage feet first, but it takes them years to discover what marriage is all about.
Matrimony is about the meaning of friendship and marriage. It is about learning how to live and how to be forgiving. It is also about leading a writer’s life. Julian discovered his dream to write at an early age and never lets it go. In many ways, he is more faithful and understanding of his craft than he is of his wife and his best friend. He doesn’t truly grow as a writer, a man, or a human being, though, until he learns and accepts that he can’t control his writing anymore than he can any other relationship in his life.
I enjoyed the time I spent with the characters who inhabit Matrimony. They are flawed, but they are vulnerable. They suffer for their mistakes, even if they try desperately to act as if they didn’t make any in the first place. I also enjoyed the sub-plot of Julian as a writer. His experiences in writing workshops reminds me of times when my own work was being discussed. Workshops can be brutal, but they can be magical, too. In Matrimony, Joshua Henkin sheds a light on the hard work, commitment and energy required to be a friend, a lover, and a writer. I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to thoughtfully explore any of those things.
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