***National Jewish Book Awards 2012, Finalist***
JJ Greenberg Memorial Award for 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.
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 (Matrimony) tenderly explores family dynamics in this novel about the ties that bind, and even lacerate. One year after the death of their kidnapped journalist son, Leo, in Iraq, David and Marilyn Frankel, non-practicing Jews, call their entire mishpocha to their summer home in the Berkshires to attend his memorial service: Clarissa and her husband, Nathaniel, who, after years of putting off parenthood, are having a difficult time getting pregnant; Lily, a D.C. lawyer who shows up without Malcolm, her restaurateur boyfriend of 10 years; Noelle, an Orthodox Jew who arrives from Jerusalem with her husband, Amram, and their four children; and Thisbe, Leo's widow, a grad student who flies in from Berkeley with their three-year-old son, Calder. Over the course of the Fourth of July holiday, David and Marilyn will make a stunning announcement; Thisbe will reveal a secret; a game of Celebrity will cause Amram to drive off into the night; Leo will be remembered; and someone will pee on the carpet. 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.
Customer ReviewsSee All
The World Without You
An interesting book full of drama and conflict.
Poignant. Heartbreaking. Touching. There are a lot of words I could use to describe this book, but the one that seems the most applicable is familiar. This is not because I can identify or even begin to imagine what the family has been through, but because the characters were all so very approachable. Rarely does a book draw the reader into the folds of its story so seamlessly as this one does.
The World Without You is about a family that is falling apart after the death of their son, brother and husband, Leo. Captured and killed while working as a journalist in Iraq, Leo’s funeral was overridden by the press one year earlier and the family has chosen to memorialize him in a small ceremony in his favorite Berkshires town in Massachusetts. Told through alternating perspectives, The World Without You holds nothing back in its portrayal of a family that is slowly disintegrating.
Everyone in this book is important and intriguing in their own way, but here is a snapshot of the most interesting:
- Noelle - Sister of Leo and mother of four boys. Noelle fled her promiscuous past, became a born-again Orthodox Jew and lives in Jerusalem. She shakes things up by bringing her own kosher food and dishes.
- Thisbe – Leo’s young widow and mother of their three year old, Calder. She’s in the precarious position of being young and wanting to move forward and respecting her past and Leo’s legacy.
- Marilyn – Leo’s mother who is determined to make the weekend a success and for whom everyone else is trying to please.
- Clarissa – Leo’s sister who is struggling with getting pregnant.
The author, Joshua Henkin, does a wonderful job of navigating the waters of real family battles while respecting the perspectives of each. There were no favorites, nor were there any overly dramatic moments to sully the underlying tone of authenticity.What I love about this book is that it is relatable. Anyone who has argued with siblings or felt chastised by in-laws will be able to identify with this book, whether or not they have lost a close family member. It oozes sincerity without the cheesiness that often accompanies that emotion, and it has moved into one of my favorite books of the year.
Imagine spending a long weekend with a bunch of people you don't really care for. You have now experienced this book.
In retrospect, I should never have purchased it. I'm not a family person - family reunions are not for me. And this family, specifically, is so unlikeable. If not for Gretchen, who is the most authentic, I cared not for any of them. Even the son being mourned? Not such an amazing person.
I know, I know - if I liked it so little, why read to the end? I kept wanting something to happen - some reward for time invested.
It did not. Aargh!