Title: The World Without You by Joshua Henkin
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday
Imprint: Pantheon Books
Genre: Contemporary, Literary Fiction
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: B
Review Copy Obtained from Publisher Through NetGalley
From the author of the widely acclaimed novel Matrimony (a New York Times Notable Book)–a moving, deeply engaging new novel about love, loss, and the aftermath of a family tragedy.
It’s July 4th, 2005, and the Frankel family is descending upon their beloved summer home in the Berkshires. But this is no ordinary holiday: the family is gathering for a memorial. Leo, the youngest of the four Frankel siblings and an intrepid journalist and adventurer, was killed one year ago while on assignment in Iraq. His parents, Marilyn and David, are adrift in grief, and it’s tearing apart their forty-year marriage. Clarissa, the eldest, is struggling at thirty-nine with infertility. Lily, a fiery-tempered lawyer, is angry about everything. Noelle, a born-again Orthodox Jew (and the last person to see Leo alive), has come in from Israel with her husband and four children and feels entirely out of place. And Thisbe–Leo’s widow and mother of their three-year-old son–has arrived from California bearing her own secret. Over the course of three days, the Frankels will contend with sibling rivalries and marital feuds, volatile women and silent men, and, ultimately, with the true meaning of family.
The World Without You by Joshua Henkin is a compelling novel about the Frankel family and how they are coping in the aftermath of the death of the youngest son, Leo. Told from all of the characters’ perspectives, the reader gains incredible insight into everyone’s lives, their memories of Leo and the emotions they are experiencing.
The World Without You is a well-written story with amazing character development. David and Marilyn are mired in grief over Leo’s death. Their marriage is on the verge of collapse as they each grieve their loss in completely opposite ways. Oldest daughter, Clarissa and her husband Nathaniel are struggling with infertility. Lily and her long term significant other, Malcolm are comfortable in their non-traditional relationship. Noelle is the former wild child of the family who is now an Orthodox Jew living with her husband and four young sons in Israel. Thisbe, Leo’s widow, is struggling to move on and she has her own secrets that she must reveal before flying back to California.
Through flashbacks and stories, Leo is brought vibrantly to life by the various family members. Fun-loving and playful, Leo is the adored baby of the family. Deeply committed to his career as a journalist, he voluntarily accepts a reporting job in Iraq. The fact that Leo is a civilian casualty of war shines the spotlight on the non-military deaths that are oftentimes overlooked.
The World Without You is a fascinating character study that seamlessly weaves together past and present. The characters are brilliantly realistic with realistic flaws, shortcomings and vulnerabilities. Joshua Henkin beautifully demonstrates the complexities of adult sibling relationships. Never maudlin or angsty, The World Without You is a gripping family drama that I highly recommend.