A Year in Reading: Josh Henkin


Josh Henkin is the author of Matrimony, a New York Times Notable Book, Borders Original Voices Pick, and Booksense Pick. His short stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in many journals and newspapers. He teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, Brooklyn College, and the 92nd Street Y in New York City. Josh lives with his family in Brooklyn.The one most on my mind at the moment is Charles D’Ambrosio’s wonderful story collection The Dead Fish Museum. I first read D’Ambrosio many years ago when his story “The Point” appeared in The New Yorker. It’s the story of a teenage boy forced to take home from a party one of his mother’s dissolute, inebriated friends. “The Point” is about sexual awakening, among other things, and it’s set against the backdrop of the protagonist’s father’s suicide. I still remember many of the images. “She was wearing a silky white slip underneath, the sheen like a bike reflector in the moonlight.” “The Point” was the title story of D’Ambrosio’s first collection, and if I have a favorite story in The Dead Fish Museum it’s probably “Up North” (a sample couple of lines: “I’ve never really liked men on whom I can smell cosmetic products, and it was that morning, in the truck, so close to Steve, that I realized it had nothing to do with the particular soap or aftershave but with the proximity. If I could smell a man, he was too close.”), which is about a man who returns with his wife (she’s cheating on him) to her family’s home for Thanksgiving and is compelled to join the other men in a turkey shoot. In my non-reading life, I’m not particularly drawn to hunting, but there’s an anthology waiting to be compiled (perhaps it already has been, for all I know) of great hunting stories. It would include Richard Ford’s “Great Falls” and Tobias Wolff’s “Hunters in the Snow,” along with D’Ambrosio’s “Up North.”I won’t say too much about Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, lest I be accused of jumping on the bandwagon. But some bandwagons are worth boarding. Everyone and their cousin has raved about the book (Michiko Kakutani and Dwight Garner in the Times and the NYTBR, respectively; James Wood in The New Yorker), though Wood notwithstanding, the Brits have been among the naysayers (contrary to expectations, Netherland didn’t make the Booker short list and in a recent edition of The New York Review of Books, Zadie Smith slammed Netherland and “lyrical realism” more broadly). But I’m with the Americans (and Wood) on this one. Netherland is a lovely, powerful novel, and the comparisons to Gatsby seem apt.More from A Year in Reading 2008

A Year in Reading: Joshua Henkin

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Joshua Henkin is the author of the novel Swimming Across the Hudson, which was named a Los Angeles Times notable book of the year. His new novel, Matrimony, was published in October.The book that comes most immediately to mind is Andrew Holleran’s Grief, a slim, restrained, beautifully rendered novel about a gay man whose mother has just died and who relocates to Washington, DC, after having cared for her for years. Holleran does so much so well, but perhaps most striking is how compellingly he writes about solitude; many a writer has tried to do that, only to succumb to inertia and solipsism. Another writer who writes wonderfully about solitude (and just about everything else) is William Trevor (if you want brilliant, heartbreaking solitude, take a look at Trevor’s short story “After Rain”), and his new book of stories, Cheating at Canasta, is terrific. So is Donald Antrim’s memoir The Afterlife, which, speaking of grief, is about his mother’s death, but also about many other things, including the purchase of a mattress. I loved Helen Schulman’s A Day at the Beach, the best of the 9/11 novels I read this year. This novel, too, is about grief (are we sensing a theme here?) – political and cultural grief, of course, but also about family grief: the novel is a domestic drama about a marriage in trouble, with 9/11 as the backdrop.More from A Year in Reading 2007