When Pru Steiner met and married Spence Robin--her dazzling young hotshot English professor at Columbia--she thought she knew what she was signing up for. But thirty years later, when Spence develops early-onset Alzheimer's, the peaceful (if ambivalent) life Pru has built for herself begins to crumble.
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.