Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Joshua Henkin

Joshua Henkin, author of Matrimony, responded to some reader questions at Everyday I Write the Book Blog, including:

Q: At one point in the story, I was thinking, "This book is titled Matrimony, but at this point, no one is married". How did the title come about? What were you trying to convey about marriage in this story?

JH: I’m ambivalent about the title, but on balance I stand by it, though I’m aware of the risks of titling a book Matrimony. I tend to think that the best titles are evocative of the novel without telling the reader too much about it. My first novel, Swimming Across the Hudson, is a good example of that. Swimming across the Hudson is simply an image from the book; it’s not a novel about aquatics, believe you me. But you call a novel MATRIMONY and you create certain expectations. People might think it’s a self-help book, and even if they know it’s a novel, they might expect a certain kind of story that may or not be borne out by what happens in my book. MATRIMONY is about more than marriage. It’s about friendship, class, maturing over the years, among other things. But I certainly couldn’t have called it Marriage, Friendship, Class and Maturing Over The Years, though Alice Munro has a story collection with a title not so far from that. But she’s Alice Munro, and as far as I’m concerned she can do whatever she wants; she’s that good.

In the end, the title Matrimony felt true to what the book was about, in that the central relationship is a marriage and the book is really about several other marriages as well—Carter and Pilar’s marriage, Mia’s parents’ marriage, Julian’s parents’ marriage. But I didn’t want to call the book Marriage. I liked the more amorphous feel of Matrimony, as well as the implied phrase “holy matrimony,” which of course is belied (or at least rendered more complex) by what happens in my novel.

That said, I wasn’t trying to convey anything about marriage more generally. “What were you trying to convey about marriage?” is an apple-banana question, and I’m a monkey-banana guy. Novelists aren’t in the business of making arguments, statements, or points; they aren’t in the business of teaching lessons. If you want to make an argument or a statement, if you want to teach a lesson, you should become a philosopher, an economist, a theologian, or a lawyer, all of which are perfectly good professions. They’re just not my profession. A novelist is in the business of creating characters and telling stories—nothing more, nothing less.

This isn’t to say that a good novel doesn’t make you think; of course it does. But a novelist doesn’t deal in generalities. He or she deals in particulars. I was not and am not making any statements about marriage. I’m simply depicting in as thorough and convincing a way as possible the specific characters and specific relationships in my novel. I leave the generalities for the critics and the Ph.D.s.
Read the entire Q & A.

Read an excerpt from Matrimony, and learn more about the novel and its author at Joshua Henkin's website and his blog.

The Page 69 Test: Matrimony.

--Marshal Zeringue