Thursday, September 5, 2013

"A Dual Inheritance," by Joanna Hershon

“A Dual Inheritance” (Ballantine, 2013), by Joanna Hershon, is another “big” novel, not only in pages (almost 500) but also in scope and reach. It follows the three main characters, and then their two daughters, over the period from 1962-2010, depicting not only the intense drama of friends and family, but the larger intense drama of the events of the period. In these ways, the book reminds me somewhat of recent "big" novels by Jonathan Franzen (“The Corrections” and “Freedom”), Jeffrey Eugenides (“The Marriage Plot”), and Allan Hollinghurst (“The Stranger’s Child”), as well as of “big” Victorian novels. In general, I love these sweeping novels (although readers of this blog may remember that I really struggled with, and basically disliked, Franzen’s “Freedom”), and “A Dual Inheritance” is no exception. The main characters, Hugh Shipley and Ed Cantowitz, meet while about to graduate from Harvard, and begin an unlikely friendship; they are different in many ways related to family background, social class, ethnicity/religion, ambitions, and style, among others. Hugh has been in a relationship with Helen Ordway, the third main character and a member of a similar family and class background to his, and eventually marries her. Hugh somewhat rebels against the expectations for a young man of his class, is rather aimless for a while, but eventually finds his passion and has a career setting up medical clinics in Africa and Haiti, meanwhile becoming increasingly alcoholic. Ed, having come from a poor, rough background, fights for and achieves success in the financial world in New York. Both friends are successful on their own terms, but both eventually suffer various setbacks and comedowns. To complicate matters, Ed has long loved Helen as well, but goes on to marry Jill and, after their divorce, to have various relationships with other women. For many years the three friends are out of touch, due to Ed’s not wanting to be around Hugh and Helen as a couple, and due to another plot twist which I won’t reveal here. Years later, their two daughters meet and become friends at their boarding school, and eventually discover that their parents were old friends. Much of the later part of the book is about the lives of these two young women as much as about the parents, and about the various emotional entanglements among all of them, the members of both generations. It is an engaging novel that draws you into its world, and deftly interweaves the stories of the main characters with the stories of the larger world around them: poverty and disease around the world, financial excesses and eventually collapses on Wall Street, the war in Vietnam and its repercussions in the U.S., social class issues and those of inequity everywhere, and more. However, and I think this is important in a novel, the personal stories always predominate.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Site Meter