Thursday, February 14, 2008


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 short stories have been published in Glimmer Train, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, The Yale Review, Triquarterly, DoubleTake, The North American Review, The New England Review, Boulevard, and elsewhere.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel Matrimony, and reported the following:
As luck would have it, page 69 of Matrimony is arguably the most important page of the novel. Or if not the most important page, then the page that changes everything that happens subsequently. It’s a new chapter, and Mia, who is a senior in college, is trying to figure out, as seniors in college are wont to do, what will happen next. It’s right after Thanksgiving, and she gets a call from her father telling her her mother has breast cancer. Although Mia’s parents don’t occupy a lot of page space in Matrimony, they loom importantly over the book, and this is where we’re introduced to them in scene. Also, the news of Mia’s mother’s breast cancer — and the fact that she dies in less than a year — is the catalyst for everything that happens afterward in Matrimony. Mia and Julian decide to get married right after they graduate so that Mia’s mother will be alive to attend the wedding.

Now, Julian and Mia love each other, indisputably, but I doubt that if Mia’s mother hadn’t gotten sick that they would have ended up getting married. Julian and Mia are people who culturally, demographically, generationally don’t get married at twenty-two. Odds are, they would have broken up shortly after college, as most college couples do, no matter how well suited they may seem (and may in fact be) at the time.

Later in the book, when Mia meets up with Derek, her friend from Japan, after not having seen him for many years, she remembers how Derek had been in love with her, and she makes this internal observation: “She wondered what would have happened if she’d let herself love Derek. She imagined herself in Kyoto, mother to his children, and for a moment it seemed as possible as the life she’d lived, as any path she might have taken.”

Coincidence. Circumstance. Timing. These are the engines that drive life, and as such, they also drive fiction. I’ve written elsewhere that Matrimony, though principally about the twenty-year history of a marriage, is also about a generation. It’s about what it’s like to be in your twenties and thirties — even your forties, in some cases — when you’re waiting for your life to begin and you find to your surprise that your life already has begun and that life is what happens when you’re not paying attention.

This, at least, is how it works for Julian and Mia. Although they meet freshman year, it’s really when they’re seniors, and on page 69, that their relationship is soldered. Tragedy does that. Julian and Mia have no idea what’s about to happen to them. I didn’t either.
Read an excerpt from Matrimony, and learn more about the novel and its author at Joshua Henkin's website and his blog.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue