Thursday, February 14, 2013

"Swimming Across the Hudson," by Joshua Henkin

It is always interesting to follow a writer’s work over many years, seeing how she or he develops and changes (or not…). Once I have read and liked an author’s work, I tend to look for each following book. But since I often “discover” an author after she or he has become more well known, I also sometimes go back and look for the author’s earlier books. So in effect, I am watching the development process in reverse, like rewinding a tape (OK, I know there aren’t tapes any more...). I often still like the author’s work, but it is evident (naturally) that the work is less mature, less developed. My reading of Joshua Henkin’s work is one example. First I read his 2012 novel “The World Without You” (which I posted about on 8/19/12); then his 2007 novel “Matrimony” (see my 9/13/12 post); and now I have reached still further back to read his first novel, “Swimming Across the Hudson” (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1997). This book feels like a first novel; I can’t quite explain why, but it has to do with topics being too explicit, and with a certain nakedness and lack of finish in the development, like a spindly plant that hasn’t quite grown up or blossomed all the way. And this makes sense, of course, because it IS a first novel. Even in this novel, I like Henkin’s writing very much; his characters are realistic and appealing, and they face important dilemmas. In this case the dilemmas have to do with adoption (especially), family, the meaning of being Jewish (or not), and a certain inertia and paralysis that some young privileged young people feel as they try to figure out what their lives are all about and what should come next. Now, having read all three of Henkin’s novels in the past few months, I am eager to read his next one, whenever it appears.

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