The World Without You by Joshua Henkin

It’s July 4, 2005, and the Frankel family is descending upon their beloved summer home in the Berkshires. But this is no ordinary holiday. The family has gathered to memorialize Leo, the youngest of the four siblings, an intrepid journalist and adventurer who was killed on that day in 2004, while on assignment in Iraq.


The parents, Marilyn and David, are adrift in grief. Their forty-year marriage is falling apart. Clarissa, the eldest sibling and a former cello prodigy, has settled into an ambivalent domesticity and is struggling at age thirty-nine to become pregnant. Lily, a fiery-tempered lawyer and the family contrarian, is angry at everyone. And Noelle, whose teenage years were shadowed by promiscuity and school expulsions, has moved to Jerusalem and become a born-again Orthodox Jew. The last person to see Leo alive, Noelle has flown back for the memorial with her husband and four children, but she feels entirely out of place. And Thisbe —Leo’s widow and mother of their three-year-old son—has come from California bearing her own secret.

Set against the backdrop of Independence Day and the Iraq War, The World Without You is a novel about sibling rivalries and marital feuds, about volatile women and silent men, and, ultimately, about the true meaning of family.

Visit Joshua Henkin's official website, and read our Twitter discussion with the author from September 11th below! Make sure to follow the Jewish Book Council ( @jewishbook) and search #JLit to follow next month's conversation.

JewishBook: Welcome all to Twitter Book Club feat. @JoshuaHenkin, author of THE WORLD WITHOUT YOU, our new fav @atrandom @aaknopfbook! #jbcbooks

JoshuaHenkin: . @JewishBook @atrandom @AAKnopf my first ever twitter book club. am so glad to be here. #jbcbooks

JewishBook: How's it going @JoshuaHenkin? Busy writing a new best-seller yet? #jbcbooks

JoshuaHenkin: @JewishBook #jbcbooks i wish! between book promotion and teaching and two small kids there's not enough time. but i'm getting going on it

JewishBook: .@JoshuaHenkin have you been enjoying the publicity so far?#jbcbooks

JoshuaHenkin: @JewishBook #jbcbooks ah, enjoy. that's a tough word. kind of like do you enjoy writing. it's always more complicated. but i've been ..

JoshuaHenkin: @JewishBook #jbcbooks.... really heartened by the reception it's received. i consider myself very fortunate.

JewishBook: .@joshuahenkin well it's definitely been a favorite in our office! and along those lines... we have so many questions prepared! #jbcbooks

JewishBook: .@joshuahenkin was any part of the book based off a personal experience? a place you’ve been, a person you knew? #jbcbooks

JoshuaHenkin: @JewishBook #jbcbooks. glad to hear it.

JoshuaHenkin: @JewishBook #jbcbooks my cousin died of hodgkin's in his late twenties and while his wife eventually moved on his parents never got over it.

JoshuaHenkin: @JewishBook ... #jbcbooks this got me thinking about the difference between losing a partner and losing a child

BookGal102: .@joshuahenkin how do you make decisions when naming your characters? why "thisbe," for instance (leo's widow)? #jbcbooks

JoshuaHenkin: @BookGal102 #jbcbooks great question. my wife and i have baby naming book for real babies, and when real babies got named i used for fic..

JoshuaHenkin: @BookGal102 #jbcbooks... fiction babies. thisbe seemed like the right name for a girl born in santa cruz in the 1970s whose parents....

JoshuaHenkin: @BookGal102 #jbcbooks ... made placenta soup. yuck! a college roommate of mine's parents made placenta soup when he was born. he ...

JoshuaHenkin: @BookGal102 #jbcbooks ...wasn't from santa cruz but from new mexico. close enough!

JoshuaHenkin: @nycbook #jbcbooks my agent came up with the title so she gets all the credit. i think it's a great title because obviously the you could..

JoshuaHenkin: @nycbook .. #jbcbooks refer to leo, but it's also more ambiguous and all-encompassing than that. could be marilyn and david, could be ...

JoshuaHenkin: @nycbook #jbcbooks ... the whole family. could just be the general sense of loss that comes with grief

BookGal102: .@JoshuaHenkin Great idea! I thought "Noelle" was particularly interesting for that character #jbcbooks

JoshuaHenkin: @BookGal102 #jbcbooks funny you should mention that. people have asked me whether i realized that "noelle" is christian--it means ...

JoshuaHenkin: @BookGal102 #jbcbooks .. christmas. and of course i knew that on some level but i wasn't thinking about it. it just felt right. i think..

JoshuaHenkin: @BookGal102 #jbcbooks can't think too much. they need to proceed intuitively. flannery o'connor said a writer needs a certain measure...

JoshuaHenkin:. #jbcbooks ... of stupidity, and i agree. some writers have to cultivate it, and some of us come by it naturally!

NaomiFirestone: .@joshuahenkin did you intend from the start to write from the perspective of (mostly) only the women in the family? #jbcbooks

JoshuaHenkin: .@NaomiFirestone #jbcbooks it wasn't a conscious decision in the abstract sense, but was i started to write the voices that came to me...

JoshuaHenkin: .@NaomiFirestone #jbcbooks ... were female

BookGal102: @JoshuaHenkin Oh wow so you didn't plan to use it BECAUSE of the "christmas" piece? interesting! I assumed you did :) #jbcbooks

JoshuaHenkin: .@BookGal102 #jbcbooks writers plan very little, at least writers like me. you need to let the subconscious take over. otherwise your..

JoshuaHenkin: .@BookGal102 #jbcbooks characters don't come to life.

MiriPomerantzD: .@joshuahenkin Which character was the most difficult for you to create/write? #jbcbooks

JoshuaHenkin: .@MiriPomerantzD #jbcbooks in some ways lily, at least initially, because the other characters have a more tangible issue to grapple...

JoshuaHenkin: .@MiriPomerantzD #jbcbooks with that helped with characterization. clarissa has infertility, noelle has religious conflict with family...

JoshuaHenkin: .@MiriPomerantzD #jbcbooks thisbe has new boyfriend, marilyn and david have impending separation. lily's anger is more pervasive and less..

JoshuaHenkin: .@MiriPomerantzD #jbcbooks focused and so it took me longer to fully "get" her but once i did she really came alive to me.

JewishBook: Is it easier to write emotion from a female character's voice? @joshuahenkin #jbcbooks

JoshuaHenkin: .@JewishBook #jbcbooks it may be. that's the stereotype, right? that women are more in touch with their feelings. though you can write .

JoshuaHenkin: .@JewishBook #jbcbooks ... about a character who's not in touch with their feelings just as long as you, the writer, are. but i do ...

JoshuaHenkin: .@JewishBook #jbcbooks sometimes find it easier to write about women. it differs, though, from book to book.

NaomiFirestone: @JoshuaHenkin You did a fantastic job bringing each characters' issues to life. From the obvious life problems to the more subtle #jbcbooks

JustBooks: Hope you don't mind a lapsed Catholic listening in on #jbcbooks chat! Different tribe, same hang-ups. @joshuahenkin

JoshuaHenkin: .@jfieds2 @JewishBook @atrandom @AAKnopf #jbcbooks tut-tut-tut--that's the badly spelled version of me spitting like a character in ...

JoshuaHenkin: .@jfieds2 @JewishBook @atrandom @AAKnopf #jbcbooks fiddler on the roof. to ward off the evil eye. from your mouth @jfieds2 to the ...

JoshuaHenkin: .@jfieds2 @JewishBook @atrandom @AAKnopf #jbcbooks ... awards decision makers ears!

NaomiFirestone: @JoshuaHenkin You did a fantastic job bringing each characters' issues to life. From the obvious life problems to the more subtle #jbcbooks

JoshuaHenkin: .@NaomiFirestone #jbcbooks. thank you, naomi! me, i read fiction so as to be transported to a new place and the way that happens is by...

JoshuaHenkin: .@NaomiFirestone #jbcbooks ... my getting to really know the characters. so the same goes when i write. it's not important to me that....

JoshuaHenkin: .@NaomiFirestone #jbcbooks ... the reader like my characters personally. in fiction as in life, the charm isn't doled out equally. what i…

JoshuaHenkin: .@NaomiFirestone #jbcbooks ... want at the end of the book is for the reader to feel that she knows the characters as well as the people...

JoshuaHenkin: .@NaomiFirestone #jbcbooks in her own life. If I've done that, then i've succeeded.

JoshuaHenkin: .@justbooks #jbcbooks ha! some of my best friends are lapsed catholics!

JoshuaHenkin: .@JewishBook #jbcbooks she just phoned while i was tweeting. i actually think she has a lucky husband!

BookGal102: .@joshuahenkin why did you choose to base this story at the family’s summer home in the berkshires, rather than in nyc? #jbcbooks

JoshuaHenkin: .@BookGal102 #jbcbooks it certainly would have taken me less research to do that and i hate research! i grew up on the UWS of manhattan...

JoshuaHenkin: .@BookGal102 #jbcbooks .. whereas i don't know the berkshires nearly as well, as my editor gently pointed out to me in an earlier draft...

JoshuaHenkin: .@BookGal102 #jbcbooks and so i had to drive up the berkshires a few times and walk around like a dork talking into my tape recorder. i ...

JoshuaHenkin: .@BookGal102 #jbcbooks ... liked the idea of a country house because it's more secluded and claustrophobic. the characters couldn't

JoshuaHenkin: .@BookGal102 #jbcbooks run off for a beer at two in the morning, and i think that claustrophobia helps the book--allows the conflicts to ...

JoshuaHenkin: .@BookGal102 #jbcbooks play out more fully. also, contrast is important to me. what's it like to be mourning someone who died in iraq...

BookGal102: @JoshuaHenkin It was a great contrast to their many problems. The calm of the country v. the chaos of their personal lives #jbcbooks

BookGal102: @joshuahenkin Interesting about claustrophobia...I didn't think of that originally, but that makes sense #jbcbooks

JoshuaHenkin: .@BookGal102 #jbcbooks when you're as far geographically and culturally from iraq as possible. whatever you think about the war, a lot...

JoshuaHenkin: .@BookGal102 #jbcbooks ... horrible things went on there, whereas the berkshires, it seems to me, was created so as to erase all...

JoshuaHenkin: .@BookGal102 #jbcbooks ... trace of horror.

JewishBook: .@joshuahenkin did you add the “fast-forward/future-glance” at the end b/c you felt a resolution was missing for the reader? #jbcbooks

JoshuaHenkin: .@JewishBook #jbcbooks that's one way to put it, but in some ways i think my urge was the opposite--by flashing forward i was saying...

JoshuaHenkin: .@JewishBook #jbcbooks ... there's more to come and this is only three days of these characters' lives. i wanted to open the book up ...

JoshuaHenkin: .@JewishBook #jbcbooks ... since the novel is so confined in terms of time and space. i wanted to suggest that there's more we don't...

JoshuaHenkin: .@JewishBook #jbcbooks ... know and that the book isn't going to tell us. the book suggests all may not be lost for marilyn and david...

JoshuaHenkin: .@JewishBook #jbcbooks ... but it's hard to know. you can't know what the future holds. you want a novel to have closure but not too ...

JoshuaHenkin: .@JewishBook #jbcbooks ... much closure. you don't want things wrapped up neatly in a bow because that's not true to life

NYCBook: .@joshuahenkin did you feel like you left your characters in a good place? or that their struggles were only just starting? #jbcbooks

JoshuaHenkin: .@BookGal102 #jbcbooks yup, that was what i was going for.

JewishBook: Sigh, @joshuahenkin, we don't want this convo to end either... but alas, we've only got time for one or two more questions! #jbcbooks

JewishBook: @JoshuaHenkin Ok a "lighter" Q: What 2 books, 1 movie, 1 recipe and 1 item of clothing would you take on a desert island #jbcbooks

ErikaDreifus: @JoshuaHenkin, FYI, after reading TWWY, I went back to see what you said about it 5 years ago (scroll down). #JBCBooks http://t.co/HnFZ4bgd

JoshuaHenkin: .@erikadreifus #jbcbooks oh, no! my web trail is following me! never trust what a writer says about his book, because he's generally...

JoshuaHenkin: .@erikadreifus #jbcbooks ... and especially early on in the process. i tell my students this and it's true--you can think you know where..

JoshuaHenkin: .@erikadreifus #jbcbooks ...you're going but you better be wrong. if you're right then you've injected your characters into a preordained..

JoshuaHenkin: .@erikadreifus #jbcbooks ... plot. you get what a friend of mine calls lipton-cup-a-story.

ErikaDreifus: @jewishbook @JoshuaHenkin My comment needs no instant acknowledgment. And I must sign off anyway. Enjoyed "listening" (as usual)! #JBCBooks

ErikaDreifus: @joshuahenkin But it was interesting to see affirmation that story preceded the "real" events some seem to believe inspired you. #JBCBooks

JoshuaHenkin: .@nycbook #jbcbooks. if their problems are only just starting then these are characters who make Job look fortunate! they've been ...

JoshuaHenkin: .@nycbook #jbcbooks ..through a lot. will things get better for them? it's hard to know. yes for some, i'm betting, no for others. but i..

JoshuaHenkin: .@nycbook #jbcbooks ... but i don't think it's a writer's job to leave his characters in a good place, or a bad place. the only job is ...

JewishBook: Ok a “lighter” Q: What 2 books, 1 movie, 1 recipe and 1 item of clothing would you take on a desert island #jbcbooks

JoshuaHenkin: @JewishBook #jbcbooks that's like telling you to choose between your kids! for books, maybe madame bovary and revolutionary road, but ...

JoshuaHenkin: .@JewishBook #jbcbooks... if you asked me the same question in two minutes i'd say something different. for movies, maybe you can ...

JoshuaHenkin: .@JewishBook #jbcbooks ... count on me by kenneth lonergan. i love that movie. i want him to write the script for the book....

JoshuaHenkin: .@JewishBook #jbcbooks item of clothing: my keans (keens?) sandals. i wear them all summer and i refuse to take them off because then...

JoshuaHenkin: .@JewishBook #jbcbooks ... that means fall (and winter) has come. recipe? probably something with cauliflower. what can i say? i like...

JoshuaHenkin: .@JewishBook #jbcbooks ... my cruciferous veggies!

JewishBook: .@joshuahenkin, let's end on "cruciferous veggies" please! That one will go into the record books. Thanks again for participating! #jbcbooks

JoshuaHenkin: @erikadreifus #jbcbooks and now i must go too--off to the upper east side to meet with a couple of actual book groups. real human beings!

JoshuaHenkin: .@JewishBook #jbcbooks. it was my pleasure! i had a great time! and i managed not to screw up the technology!

JewishBook: Great! Best of luck with your "real people!" ;) @joshuahenkin #jbcbooks