A Dual Inheritance
As Ed Cantowitz grabs the arm of fellow Harvard senior Hugh Shipley in the first paragraph, my attention was grabbed for the full length of this novel. These two students who are at stereotypical opposite ends of the social spectrum in 1962 Boston, become inseparable friends. Ed is an outsider, an orphan, son of a boxer—a loud Jew on scholarship from the wrong side of town. He is embarrassed by his background, but also proud and focused on working hard to achieve his high goals. Hugh is of Boston Brahmin stock, aristocratic-looking but apathetic, thumbing his nose at his rich heritage. Both men yearn to break free of their roots, yet through the telling of their life stories, we learn how deeply they are each defined by their backgrounds.
The two embark on vastly separate paths. Ed is upwardly mobile in New York City’s financial world while Hugh is off to some of the most downtrodden places on earth. Ed harshly breaks off his friendship with Hugh early on but their lives continue to be intertwined through their daughters until the present day. Though still conscious of their class disparity, Rebecca Cantowitz and Vivi Shipley are able to sustain a more even, genuine friendship than their fathers ever could.
This book delves into themes of loyalty and betrayal, longing and regret, jealousy and obsession, birthright and ambition. Hershon richly describes so many settings and emotions. She takes us from the preppiness of Harvard’s campus to the dumpy home of Ed’s widower father to a high end art-filled New York City apartment, to the foreignness of Shenzhen, to the overwhelming beauty of Lake Tanganyika, and the comfortable opulence of an old family home on Fisher’s Island. The author really gets the reader into her two main characters, Ed and Hugh. It was surprising how much I could enjoy these two men who seemed so real despite their exaggerated negative personality traits. I would have liked the story to continue just a little bit longer…