World Without You (Review)

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The World Without You
Joshua Henkin
336 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
September 2012

Joshua Henkin writes novels with such stunning realism that his characters fairly jump off the page and lodge themselves in your consciousness. They're rich, complex, and remain with you long after you've closed the cover.

In The World Without You the author has created a family whose members, each in their peculiar way, remember and grieve for one of their own. This is a beautiful, poignant, and at times even funny read.

In 2004 journalist Leo Frankel is kidnapped and murdered while on assignment in Iraq. He is 32.  We enter the story a year later, as family members—parents, sisters, grandchildren, and widow—gather in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts to hold a memorial service. All arrive with baggage, literal and figurative.

Henkin explores the ways we remember those we've lost. Miraculously, he brings the dead man to life. Leo becomes a mosaic pieced together by varied memories as a son, brother, husband, and friend. Readers are privy to all sides of Leo—his vitality, his restlessness, idealism, devilment, naivete and wisdom.

Yet it's the family members who truly engage us: the parents, Marilyn and David, whose 40-year marriage is strained to the breaking point; eldest sister Clarissa, struggling (at times hilariously) to get pregnant; middle sister Lily, touchy and angry—especially at Noelle, the youngest of the three sisters. Noelle is the most complex character, almost daring us to like her, yet who by the end manages to gain our sympathy. Finally, Leo's widow has recently fallen in love...and we learn that her marriage to Leo was less than idyllic.
                                
This book makes us wonder: Can we truly know another being? Can we, in fact, know our own desires and selves? Who we are, and how we love, form some of life's deepest mysteries—and the World Without You revels in that mysteriousness. I think book clubs will have a wonderful time reading and talking about the lives of this wonderful family as they struggle for wholeness—without Leo and within themselves.

See our Reading Guide for The World Without You. Also be sure to read LitLovers interview with Joshua Henkin.

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