Monday, June 17, 2013

A Dual Inheritance by Joanna Hershon

Review based on ARC.

Like many other readers of this book, I really did want to love it.  I have recently been through Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald and Rules of Civility, both of which I thought were really quite great.  And coming away from those and into another book introduced in the same vein -- the glamorization of historical wealth and/or the striving of characters to reach it and the pitfalls along the way -- this one just fell short.

The characters are interesting *enough,* the plot is interesting *enough,* and the writing is certainly good *enough,* it just didn't wrap me up into the stories the way other recently read books did.

So, about this one... The main characters are poor jewish ambitious materially minded Ed Cantowitz and rich disillusioned laid back save-the-world Hugh Shipley.  And of course they become best friends.  And of course they fall for the same girl.  And of course their lives are intertwined, even in ways that are not expected.  And none of that was particularly ground-breaking, nor did I need it to be.  But the story of it all.... well, I need more than just interesting facts and interesting characters.  The story needs to come alive.  And for me, with this one, it had a difficult time of it.  There were moments, certainly, but in the end I didn't really feel for the characters.

The first portion of the book covers Ed and Hugh's first few years as friends at Harvard in the 60s, and it is interesting enough.  The 60s and 70s are such an interesting timeframe.  But Ed and Hugh's differences seem to be at the forefront of Hershon's focus, rather than their friendship and the interesting conversations they could have had, the interesting perspectives they could have gained from one another, or the interesting experiences they could have gained from their friendship.  As someone who has had friends just about as polar opposite from myself as you can get--I know that the relationships have the potential to have depth and interest.

And yes, I know that the times, they were a-different back then, but some things are true about friendships: the differences fade away.  And yes, they resurface from time to time, sometimes in very painful ways, but I felt like Hershon just couldn't get *past* the differences.  I get it, Ed was poor and unprivileged, and Hugh was rich and privileged.  I get it, Hugh was attractive and soft-spoken and Ed was short, stocky, and aggressive.  But they both had a hopeful outlook on life and they both had a love of the "new" and I felt like not enough was done to play up these similarities.

Overall, it was a fine book, and I really enjoyed the story after it changed perspectives to Ed and Hugh's daughters, years later, best friends in boarding school.  Although the transition felt disjointed and awkward, the relationships and their evolution were interesting to me.

In the end, I felt that the book made a great effort, but that the payoff was not as rewarding as I had hoped.  It was a little depressing, a little agressive, and dragged a little at times.  Having it compared to Rules of Civility does Dual Inheritance a disservice.  They have different energies, different focuses, and different purposes.  But I would recommend the book -- to people who want to read something more dense, who are interested in the more depressing sides of lives, and who have the time and energy to devote to a book that covers 5 decades and many characters' lives in about 500 pages.

THREE of five stars.

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