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The World Without You
"Heart-searing, eye-tearing, and soul-touching." - The Huffington Post
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Josh Henkin answers questions about "The World Without You"

Created: 01/15/13

Replies: 15

Posted Jan. 15, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
davinamw

Join Date: 10/15/10

Posts: 558

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Josh Henkin answers questions about "The World Without You"

Josh Henkin will be joining us for the next few days to answer questions about "The World Without You"; so, if you have a question for him please post it below.

He will reply to the questions in this same discussion thread; so, if you post a question, you might want to click the button above to subscribe to this thread - so that you receive an email each time a post is made.


Posted Jan. 15, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Suzanne

Join Date: 04/21/11

Posts: 117

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RE: Josh Henkin answers questions about "The World Without You"

Joshua Henkin, you have written a wonderful book. I enjoyed it so much. I (and I'm sure many others) would like to know why Amram chose to drive to New York to Gretchen's and then return with her to the family house. Seemed unusual that he'd leave before the memorial and stay gone without checking in.


Posted Jan. 15, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
joyces

Join Date: 06/16/11

Posts: 248

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RE: Josh Henkin answers questions about "The World Without You"

I enjoyed this book very much. I thought you handled all the characters with empathy,reality and restraint. I am interested to know if some particular life expreience of your own inspired this story.


Posted Jan. 15, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
LReads

Join Date: 06/23/12

Posts: 27

RE: Josh Henkin answers questions about "The World Without You"

I totally enjoyed your book and the opportunity to explore this family. I am so impressed by the character development and would especially like to know what you think helps you convey the female point of view so realistically.


Posted Jan. 15, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
LReads

Join Date: 06/23/12

Posts: 27

RE: Josh Henkin answers questions about "The World Without You"

I am curious about why you chose to have Joshua died the way he did. I saw this as a statement about the impact of war itself but wonder if it was just a way to keep things timely.


Posted Jan. 16, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
juliaa

Join Date: 12/03/11

Posts: 72

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RE: Josh Henkin answers questions about "The World Without You"

I enjoyed this book very much. I am wondering why you chose Lenox as the site of the family's summer home (although I'm glad you did, since it's a place I am familiar with) rather than the Hamptons or somewhere else closer to New York City.


Posted Jan. 16, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
sandeo

Join Date: 04/17/11

Posts: 12

RE: Josh Henkin answers questions about "The World Without You"

What a wonderful read Josh! I really enjoyed the character development throughout the novel. The words and emotions stayed with me long after I finished reading. As I was going through the book I felt that the women were stronger than the men, but then at the end I realized I was mistaken. Though the sisters, mother and Noelle were initially proactive, it was the men who were strong, resilient and in the end loving enough to wait for resolution. This was especially true for David. Am I seeing this correctly, or writing my own conclusion? Either way, thanks for a wonderful experience and I look forward to your next success.


Posted Jan. 16, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Josh Henkin

Join Date: 01/04/13

Posts: 7

RE: Josh Henkin answers questions about "The World Without You"

Thanks for your question, Suzanne. It's funny, in an earlier draft the book actually followed Amram to New York, but I decided in revision that that was a mistake and that the book needed to stay in Lenox. Since we're not in Amram's point of view, we can only speculate, but my own sense of his motivation is this. Amram is someone who always needs to be the center of attention and he gets frustrated and angry when he's not. He has been feeling humiliated for much of the holiday (by Lily when she's doing the crossword puzzle, in bed with Noelle), and in a moment of rage he stalks off. I don't think that when he left he had a plan--he just wanted to drive off somewhere. I imagine that as he was driving New York City came onto his mental map. He grew up in Westchester, and there are plenty of kosher restaurants in Manhattan, so it would be an obvious choice. Then, once he got there, the idea probably came to him that he would pay Gretchen a visit--probably for the reasons that Noelle accuses him of, namely, that he wants money. Then, one he's there, he realizes that by telling Gretchen that David and Marilyn are splitting up, and by agreeing to take her up to Lenox, he can redeem himself and be the hero, which is what he always wants to be.


Posted Jan. 16, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Josh Henkin

Join Date: 01/04/13

Posts: 7

RE: Josh Henkin answers questions about "The World Without You"

Thanks for the kind words, Joyces. I had a first cousin who died of Hodgkin’s disease when he was in his late twenties. I was only a toddler at the time, but his death hung over my extended family for years. At a
family reunion nearly thirty years later, my aunt, updating everyone on what was
happening in her life, began by saying, “I have two sons….” Well, she’d once had two sons,
but her older son had been dead for thirty years at that point. It was clear to everyone in
that room that the pain was still raw for her and that it would continue to be raw for her for
the rest of her life. By contrast, my cousin’s widow eventually remarried and had a family.
This got me thinking how when someone loses a spouse, as awful as that is, the surviving
spouse eventually moves on; but when a parent loses a child they almost never move on.
That idea was the seed from which The World Without You grew. Although there are many
tensions in the novel (between siblings, between couples, between parents and children),
the original tension was between mother-in-law and daughter-in law, caused by the gulf
between their two losses, by the different ways they grieve.


Posted Jan. 16, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Josh Henkin

Join Date: 01/04/13

Posts: 7

RE: Josh Henkin answers questions about "The World Without You"

I appreciate that, Lreads. I think fiction writing is always an act of imagination--of getting inside a character who isn't you, whether that person is male, female, young, old, rich, poor, shy, gregarious. My mother likes to say that when I was a toddler I insisted on being picked up so I could look inside every store window. That's what a writer is--someone who needs to look inside every store window. In other words, you need to be deeply curious. To me, fiction is first and foremost about character. My goal at the end of the novel is for the reader to feel that she knows my characters as well as or better than the people in their own lives. It’s a challenge, I suppose, for a male writer to write from a female perspective but no more
so, it seems to me, than for a young person to write from an old person’s perspective, a poor
person to write from a rich person’s perspective, or a gregarious person to write from a shy
person’s perspective. I don’t see why gender should be a more insurmountable barrier than
other ones. I believe good fiction can transcend difference, that it can take us out of our own
experiences and allow us to inhabit the experiences of others. It’s what happens, ideally, to
the reader, and in order for it to happen to the reader it has to happen to the writer too.
A few years ago, I gave a reading from an early draft of The World Without You, and I
was reading with a woman novelist who read a section of her novel told from the perspective
of a man. When the reading was over, she, too, was asked the gender question, and she said,
“Are you kidding me? I spent half my life flirting with boys. I know them far better than I
know girls.” She was kidding, sort of, but I think there’s a real truth there. In a lot of ways
it’s easier to write from the perspective of someone different from you. We’re so close to our
own experiences that we don’t see ourselves as clearly as we see others.


Posted Jan. 16, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Josh Henkin

Join Date: 01/04/13

Posts: 7

RE: Josh Henkin answers questions about "The World Without You"

Lreads--I assume you mean Leo, not Joshua (unless I've inadvertently killed myself!). It's a good question because TWWY is not a war novel or a political novel; it's really a family drama. My reason for having Leo killed in the war was not to make the book timely, per se (though I do think it's important that the book takes place when it does) and certainly not to make a statement about the war. To my mind, good fiction doesn't make statements or have messages. If someone's interested in messages they should be a rabbi or priest or speech writer or politician. My job as a fiction writer is to make my characters come to life and to tell a story--nothing more and nothing less. I knew that I wanted Leo to die suddenly--that it would be a very different book if he died as a result of a protracted illness. I could have had him killed in a car crash, I suppose, but that seemed to me less interesting and less rife with possibility. As I started to write these characters I began to realize that many of them had strong (and often conflicting) opinions about politics. Marilyn and Lily went down to Florida to protest Bush v. Gore and they went to Ohio to campaign for Kerry together. Noelle, on the other hand, voted for Bush absentee twice, one time even after Leo died. So it occurred to me that having Leo be killed in the war would be a way to explore some of the central tensions between my characters.

Beyond that, I think I chose to have Leo killed in Iraq as a way of illustrating how far-away conflicts
have an impact on even the most privileged of people. I come from the same socioeconomic
background, roughly speaking, as the Frankels, and while I know a lot of people who have
very strong feelings about the war, it often feels at one remove. I don’t know any soldiers
who were killed. I suspect the Frankels didn’t, either. But then the war came and touched
them in the most personal, horrific way. However, there is absolutely no message, political
or otherwise, in The World Without You. Fiction that has messages is bad fiction. Which is
not to say that I don’t have strong political opinions. My father was a professor of
constitutional and international law at Columbia for fifty years. My mother is a human
rights lawyer. You didn’t survive my family’s dinner table without having strong political
opinions. But as a novelist, I check those opinions at the door. You should be able to finish
The World Without You and not have any idea how I feel about the Iraq War or any other
matter of electoral politics.


Posted Jan. 16, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Josh Henkin

Join Date: 01/04/13

Posts: 7

RE: Josh Henkin answers questions about "The World Without You"

Thanks, JuliaA. I definitely wanted the book to take place in the country, not in the city, both because I wanted that country-house sort of feel and also because that sense of claustrophobia is essential to the book. If the book took place in Manhattan, the characters could run off at midnight for a beer, and I didn't want that to hppaen. It was important for the book's tension for everyone to feel cooped up together. As to why the Berkshires, specifically, I think it's Marilyn who tells Clarissa in the scene when they go out on the tennis court that years ago, when David was trying to convince her to get a country house, he referred to Lenox as the Massachusetts outpost of the Upper West Side. I think that's true. When I walk down the street in Lenox or Stockbridge or Great Barrington I see the same people I might see in Zabar's. To me, the Hamptons has a more nouveau riche feel (except for the parts of it that have an old-money feel), whereas the Frankels feel to me much more like a certain kind of Upper West Side Jewish intelligentsia, and I associate that more with the Berkshires and Tanglewood, say, than with the Hamptons.


Posted Jan. 16, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Josh Henkin

Join Date: 01/04/13

Posts: 7

RE: Josh Henkin answers questions about "The World Without You"

Thanks for the kind words, SandeO. I don't think that there's a right way and a wrong way to read a book, and so everyone draws their own conclusions. I didn't set out to write women who were stronger or men who were stronger. The characters just came to me as they did (though over a long time and through a lot of trial and error: I spent five years writing the book and I threw out over two thousand pages!), and to me, each one is different and deserves my respect. That's different from saying I like them all equally as people. I'd much rather spend a day on a desert island with Thisbe, say, than with Amram. But as characters, they're all equal in my eyes and I don't play favorites. Michael Cunningham once said that you have to think of the most minor character in your novel as a major character in another novel who is making a cameo appearance in your book. I think he's right. As just one example, there's a character named Jules who's Leo's best friend growing up and who shows up at the memorial for a couple of paragraphs. Well, in an early draft of the book he was not just a major character but perhaps THE major character. I wrote hundreds of pages with him in it, but they weren't working, so I threw them out. Another huge change is that in early drafts of the book Marilyn and David weren't even splitting up, and now that's the central engine that drives the novel. So you bark up a lot of wrong trees until you bark up the right one. Finally, when the book is finished, you look back at what you've written and in a way you're as surprised as anyone else. In any case, looking back at my book, I'd say that with some exceptions (Amram, most obviously) the men are quieter and more self-contained and the women are louder and more forceful. Does that make them stronger? It depends on your definition of strong. As David tells Lily when they're setting up for the memorial, he may not be bellowing into bullhorns, but that doesn't mean he misses Leo any less than Marilyn does. Nathaniel, too, in his quiet way seems like a forceful character. He certainly has had a very accomplished professional life. But there are different kinds of strength, different kinds of forcefulness, and I'd say that in this book the women's personalities are more public and on the surface whereas the men are more laconic and inner-directed.


Posted Jan. 17, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
lisag

Join Date: 01/12/12

Posts: 298

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RE: Josh Henkin answers questions about "The World Without You"

Joshua, I'd like to know about your reading tastes. Who are your favorite books/authors? Is there one in particular you believe influenced you most?


Posted Jan. 22, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Josh Henkin

Join Date: 01/04/13

Posts: 7

RE: Josh Henkin answers questions about "The World Without You"

Lisag--Sorry for the delay in getting back to you; it's been a busy last few days. Choosing among favorite authors is like choosing among one's children, so I'll stay away from favorites and just mention some writers and books I love. Virginia Woolf and Flaubert are among my favorite writers, as are F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Cheever. I loved Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety and Richard Yates's Revolutionary Road. Among living writers, some people whose work I admire a whole lot are Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore, Jonathan Dee, Jeffrey Eugenides, Elizabeth Strout, and others.


Posted Jan. 23, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
lisag

Join Date: 01/12/12

Posts: 298

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RE: Josh Henkin answers questions about "The World Without You"

Josh - You cited some of my favorites, as well. I love Woolf, Eugenides and Strout. Likewise GG Marquez (the fact he has dementia breaks my heart), Margaret Atwood, Faulkner and oh, so many others! I know, it's hard to narrow down.


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