In remarkably plain and quiet prose, Henkin has explored the exigencies of marriage and families (especially recombined families) through unflinching yet kind depictions of the ways we live now. His thoughtful new novel, Morningside Heights, proves no exception ... Spence’s diagnosis, divulged relatively early, sharpens the novel’s structural challenge: to keep readers invested, eager to learn how these lives will play out. It draws us in — and on — by paying out details of Spence’s deterioration like a trail of clues, alongside Pru’s stumbling efforts to coexist with them ... Quietly told, the story nonetheless pulses with insistence: Attention must be paid. This subtle urgency opens our own awareness, lens-like, upon the implied human task, larger than any single calamity — that of attending to relentless change, loss, finitude.
... radiates a tenderness for the city that we, his intended readers, can best appreciate — perhaps now most of all, as we ask our city to return to us ... Henkin is a fine writer with a wry fondness for his characters, but like any New Yorker he knows how to keep a safe distance. The specific letting-go that all New Yorkers must master if we don’t wish to be crippled by nostalgia — especially now, if we do hope to see our city’s resurgence — is particularly nuanced when a city neighborhood is also a college town, but Henkin more than meets this challenge.
... a richly textured family portrait that feels deeply familiar yet profoundly moving and illuminating. As in the best fiction, you come away from Morningside Heights reluctantly—attached to its characters and with new understanding of what it is to be a feeling person dealing with life’s unpredictability ... just when we think it might settle into an affecting chronicle of degenerative disease, Mr. Henkin surprises us with some smart narrative shifts, which underscore that Morningside Heights is above all the story of a marriage and a family—and its often unexpected challenges ... convincingly captures the “years of diminishment” in Spence’s condition, but it’s the nuanced portrait of its characters’ mixed feelings—and passages like the following—that lift its tender story of a family under duress well above the ordinary.
A propulsive, literary page-turner about a family beset by early onset Alzheimer’s? If that sounds like an oxymoron then you have not encountered the heart, scalpel, and unassuming genius of Joshua Henkin whose new novel, Morningside Heights is not only a study in craft, but a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit ... Rife with evocative sensory details like the inimitable Chock Full O’ Nuts, Morningside Heights reads like an ode to New York as it maps a narrative of loss, and asks us to consider what it means to live and love, where our faith lies, and what we leave behind ... Henkin, who directs the MFA program at Brooklyn College, is a quiet master whose prose does not call attention to itself, but rather, works in such direct humble service to story that you forget that you are reading. His gift of compression is enviable, as are his instincts for pacing. He knows precisely where to pick us up and where to drop us down, moving the reader through the lives of multiple characters, through multiple points of view, over multiple decades, in a slim volume that’s under 300 pages, all while making it look deceptively easy ... His characters are complicated, flawed, fiercely alive ... not only impossible to put down, but impossible to forget.
... another poignant entry in the early-onset Alzheimer’s canon. The book intimately explores both the ravages of the disease and its impacts on family members and other caregivers. And...it finds some relief from despair in the redemptive power of love ... As characters, both Arlo and Linda seem impossibly quirky—at times, downright annoying. But Pru’s devotion to her husband, even as his deficits balloon, is touching and tenderly depicted, the emotional heart of the story.
Henkin is an emotionally generous, deft, witty, and deeply intelligent writer, and his new novel displays these qualities in spades ... Despite its sensitivity and wit, Morningside Heights never succeeds in being either deeply engrossing or deeply moving. The time-jumps, especially the skip from Sarah’s toddlerhood to the onset of Spence’s Alzheimer’s, with descriptions of the marriage postponed or entirely occluded, have the effect of undermining our emotional attachment to the characters and our understanding of their bonds with each other. The multiple perspectives add texture but also loosen our connection to Pru and Spence. Spence in particular is never fully inhabited by the narrator and remains an enigmatic, rather blurry figure ... The novel’s lack of strong focus is perhaps best evidenced by its misleading and misguided title. References to the Upper West Side neighborhood that houses Columbia dot the novel, but the place never acquires the status of a resonant setting ... a worthy and accomplished novel that sadly doesn’t either wholly win the affections or command our admiration for its less-than-the-sum-of-its-parts aesthetic achievement.
Henkin brilliantly conveys the complexities of a New York City family in this humane, compulsively readable tale ... humor and insight ... Equally well handled is Pru’s transformation from wife and lover to caretaker—wrenching changes that Henkin conveys without dissolving into sentimentality or cliché, but rather leaving readers with a kernel of hope. This is a stunning achievement.
Henkin specializes in melancholy stories about complicated families, and this one is a real heartbreaker. His portrait of Pru is nuanced and sensitive, following her into one of the darkest places a spouse can go and hitting the notes just right. The other point-of-view character is Arlo, a dyslexic genius raised haphazardly by his bohemian mom and his underinvolved dad—his trajectory is interesting but distant from the emotional core of the story. Some of the most powerful moments in the book are sudden insights into Spence’s experience—more of these would have been welcome ... Caring for a spouse with Alzheimers is an ever more common heartbreak, illuminated by this tender portrait of a marriage.