henkinYour newest novel, The World Without You, takes place over a July 4th holiday in the Berkshires.  The Frankel family is gathering at their country house for the memorial for Leo, the youngest child, who was a journalist killed in Iraq.  Is the book autobiographical?

I wasn’t killed in Iraq.

twwy“Here,” she says, “I’ll get you a sweater.” She’s barely done speaking before she’s taking the stairs two at a time, her espadrilles clomping against the peeling wood, transporting her down the long hallway. It’s July and twilight comes late, so even now, at nine o’clock, the last of the sun still colors the sky, but inside the house the corridors are dark and she’s neglected to illuminate the antique standing lamp at the top of the stairs as if to reflect an inner austerity. It’s their country house, but like their apartment in the city the hallway runs through it, an endless spine, which she traverses now, past the Kathe Kollwitz etchings and the street map of Paris and the photographs of her and David’s grandparents staring down at them on opposite sides of the wall from another continent and century. She moves with such purpose (dogged, implacable: those are the words David uses to describe her) that when she reaches the lip of their bedroom and steps inside she’s startled to discover she’s forgotten what she came for.

There was a time in my life when I read purely for pleasure.  Before then, I read pretty much for pain, or more accurately, I read and it caused me pain.  Like reading Thoreau’s Walden and Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage for English class – now there was torture.  But thankfully, there was Stephen King and Stephen R. Donaldson and Stephen Coonts and even some authors not named Stephen, and I was in bliss.  These were my lazy high school years.  I remember reading Misery in a single day, from nine in the morning until nine at night, and I had no other desire than to feel every word on the page.  It was pure hedonism.

I’ve been thinking about the power of fiction, or the power of good writing, to transport us to another time.

A talented writer can remove us from our dreary, repetitious lives with a well-wrought scene or a fully realized character.

Or simply a single object.

Backclock

For me, this happened recently while reading Josh Henkin’s wonderful novel Matrimony.

A main character reminisces about a cafe with a backward clock.

Simple as that and there I went.

When I was in fifth grade in Florida, my friend Greg Mullen was the coolest, most suave guy around. He had an inground pool, he belonged to a tennis club, he went scuba diving, he wore a leather jacket, his parents drove matching Volvos (the oddest looking cars on the block back in the early ’70s).