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Monday, June 30, 2008


I've been reading reviews of Joshua Henkin's Matrimony for quite some time now. I entered a few contests to win a copy but since I have no luck, I didn't win. However, out of the kindness of his heart, Josh offered to send me a copy to review anyway - thanks Josh!

Here's my dilemma: Does receiving a book directly from the author - and knowing he/she will read my review - change what I will write about that book in my review? Read on to find out ...

As other reviewers have said, Matrimony is a character-driven novel. The book focuses on Julian, a young aspiring writer, as he goes through college, marriage, and life in general with all its ups and downs.

The author does an excellent job conveying the "feel" of each part of Julian's life. His description of life at college with all the friendships and craziness of that time really resonated with me. Throughout the novel there were many times I thought to myself "Yes! That's JUST what it felt like for ME when ..."

The problem is that this book didn't "grab me" ... it took me a while to get into the flow of the story (which is rather slow on purpose I think) and I had no problem putting it down. In fact, it took me over a week to read it because I kept picking up other books rather than completing this one.

I've mentioned before that I'm a "book snob" (meaning I'm very picky about what I read - I usually want to learn something from a book) but that I'm trying to break out of that mold because I'm likely missing out on some really great books. That's the reason I wanted to read Matrimony - it's had some great reviews and reminded me of my own life in some ways. But I need a book to have more than just a good story ... I need it to have a message, or at least to grab my attention and hold it hard.

And that's just not Henkin's style. The Publisher's Weekly review of his first novel, Swimming Across the Hudson, called his writing "quiet" and "fluid". In Matrimony, Henkin seems to be describing himself when he explains the writing style of one of the characters: "The story was quiet; all his work was. He had nothing against muscular prose; it was the flexing of those muscles that he objected to, and, along with it, a disregard for character."

If you want a book with lots of characterization, this it it. It's a relaxed book with no sense of hurry ... great for a vacation read. But if you're looking for a fast pace, lots of action, or a story that jumps up and grabs your attention this is not the book for you.

Many other bloggers will disagree with me - it seems I'm the only one who isn't a big fan of this book (sorry Josh!). Check out their reviews and make your own decision ...

Here's what other blogger's are saying:
My Friend Amy
Books on the Brain
Booking Mama
Book Club Classics
Reading and More Reading
The Literate Housewife
Boston Bibliophile
Why I Failed Math
B&B ex libris
Bloody Hell! It's a Book Barrage!
The 3 R's

this is good too - Joshua Henkin on Book Clubs

I know there are more of you who have reviewed this - I read your reviews! - so please give me your link and I'll add it here.


Julie P. said...

Here's my link:

Julie P. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marie Cloutier said...

Thanks for linking to me. I like your review. I wasn't crazy about the book either, but I tried to balance the good with the bad in my review (and there were things that I admired) and I agree with you that it's difficult to be really frank when you feel like the author is standing over your shoulder! :-)

bethany (dreadlock girl) said...

I know exactly what you mean. I agree with a lot of what you say about this book, I did like reading it though, it was more uneventful than I would have hopped, but I did like Josh's writing.

Thanks for giving me your link, and linking to me :)

LisaMM said...

I can empathize because I also found it a little tricky to write my review knowing that Josh would be reading it as soon as it was posted. I definitely held back because of it. I learned a lot from that experience, actually. I think your review was very fair. Good job!

Alea said...

This book sounds interesting. Possibly a slice of life story? It has a great cover too!

Anonymous said...

Heather, I think your review is fair and thoughtful. Although I do like character-driven novels, I know what you mean about there not seeming to be a greater meaning or purpose. I would be interested to read about how Julian and Mia deal with their son when he is college age. Would they be that much different than their parents?

I think it's a great idea to link to more favorable posts when you don't like a novel. And I'm not just saying that because mine was one of them! :)

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh, your post couldn't be more timely! Josh Henkin just sent me a copy of Matrimony too (signed, and not only that but I've met him in real life a few times). I'm already worrying: what if I don't like it? How would I say so? I haven't even started it yet, so my worry is purely hypothetical, but this is my first ever "review" copy. I don't really know what is the etiquette of accepting books for review, and I wouldn't have taken this one except that I know him and was planning to read the book anyway.

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

Thanks for all the wonderful comments! I just want you all to know that I felt a little weird writing a less than glowing review of a book given directly to me by the author. However I emailed Josh first and let him know the gist of my review, and I even gave him the choice as to whether I posted it or not. He said to go ahead as long as it was a fair review - which I think it was.

In the future, if I get a book directly from an author, I will ask UP FRONT how I should handle my review if I'm not a big fan of the book. Ah well, live and learn!

Melissa said...

Heather, I stumbled upon your blog (which is excellent, BTW) when looking for reviews of Matrimony, which I just finished. For the same reasons you mentioned, I'm also struggling with writing my thoughts on this one ... so thank you for this.

I'm adding you to my blogroll and will be visiting again.

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