I’ll Melt Without You — Joshua Henkin launches ‘The World Without You’ at BookCourt
1. A massive and patient queue waiting to have books signed by Joshua Henkin.
I got to BookCourt at 7:30 and second guessed myself: was I in BookCourt? I’d never seen the place so full before, the backroom brimming with all sorts of good looking people for the launch of Joshua Henkin’s novel, The World Without You. The Cobble Hill institution quickly became familiar as little children traipsed among dark jeans, slim chinos, and sensible heels, occasionally pausing to chat with parents holding Henkin’s book — which tells the tale of family reunited to mourn the loss of a brother, killed in Iraq (another sibling is an ex-high school nympho turned Orthodox Jew). Those in attendance were privy to Henkin’s beautifully crafted prose, drops of writing wisdom, and a hell of a good time.
1. The crowd at the “best store in the best borough,” according to Joshua Henkin. 2. Matthue Roth, a writer who’ll be at the Franklin Park Reading Series next month, with Luis Diaz-Albertini, who works for the American Jewish World Service.
The crowd was evenly divided between writers from the Brooklyn College MFA program, which Henkin directs, and friends and family members. Henkin was surprised to see so many people, noting that he felt like he was at his Bar Mitzvah. Henkin read an excerpt about fifty pages into the book, a flashback scene from the perspective of Noelle, the born-again Orthodox Jew. In Westchester, NY, a place with “plenty of trouble to be found,” Noelle “remembers high school as a word problem,” draining at one rate and filling at another, her duty always being to figure out how to “fill the tub.” From a memory of her mother helping her study for a math test, Noelle segues to her teenage years as “Noelle the nympho, the girl who couldn’t say no,” famous on campus for asking boys to go “spelunking.” Henkin is a veritable kung-fu master of craft. He navigates Noelle’s self-disgust wonderfully, allowing Orthodox Noelle to reflect on Nympho Noelle, to realize that the only time she felt truly herself — the only time she wasn’t “impersonating anyone” — was when she was having sex.
1. Jennifer Kikoler, a fiction writer, and Jeff Price, also a writer, once upon a time for The Outlet. Yay! 2. Before he read, Joshua Henkin told us about a charming conversation with one of his young daughters, and her wish to become a teenager because they were “allowed” to curse.
I’d like to have everyone that attends BookCourt events follow me to every reading, because BookCourt patrons have a knack for asking great questions. The Q&A was one of the better ones in recent memory, and Henkin didn’t even have to “call on his graduate students.” Most of the session did feel like an impromptu craft workshop for both serious writers and general readers, with the occasional standard answer about the genesis of the novel. Henkin’s impetus came from a death in his own family — a cousin of his succumbed to Hodgkin’s disease very young, and the death has loomed over his family’s Purim reunions ever since. He mused about the difference between losing a child and losing a partner: when one loses a partner, one eventually re-partners, but a parent never moves on from the loss a child. On the craft side, Henkin believes children to be natural storytellers, so as a fiction writer he’s striven to teach himself how to think like a little kid again. Teaching fiction allows him to “learn intuition,” and seeing the mistakes his students make allow him to see his own. My favorite parts centered around character. For Henkin, if “you can answer enough questions about character, the narrative arrives.” I’ll be sure to ask if mine have hairy chests, or prefer bendy straws to straight ones, and why. Bendy straws are obviously superior.
1. Christine Vines, writer and curator of Fiction Addiction (next Tuesday, 6/26!) with Andrew Witherspoon, recent Brooklyn transplant and Vines’ website designer. 2. Katie Assef, fiction writer and one of Henkin’s graduate candidates, with Ashley Martin, Assistant Editor at A Public Space.
Henkin closed out his Q&A with some musings on beginning a novel. When you’re first starting the beast, you have to learn how to tolerate the mess, Henkin said, and trust yourself to follow whatever voice and/or character that’s captivated you. “You don’t know anything when you sit down to write. When you do, you have to own up to [the words’] implications.” I find this incredibly encouraging coming from a dude who’s written three novels and directs an MFA program. Though “writing doesn’t get any easier” for anybody, much of the reason why we do it is to be a full human with a full human experience, to hold ourselves accountable. And remember, “any writer who plans anything is screwed.”
If you missed him last night, Joshua Henkin will be at the Barnes and Noble on E. 82nd Street tomorrow, 6/21, at 7 PM. He comes highly recommended.
— Ryan Chang is Events Editor at The Outlet. His work has appeared in Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Art Faccia, and elsewhere. He is in the internet here and here.
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