In Joshua Henkin's (Matrimony) The World Without You, the Frankel family gathers at their home in the Berkshires on Fourth of July weekend in 2005. Leo Frankel, a journalist and adventurer, was killed in Iraq one year ago and this mostly nonobservant Jewish family is now ready to unveil his tombstone.
The eldest sister, Clarissa, is 39 and has decided that she wants to have a baby. Lily, a hot-tempered liberal D.C. lawyer, has initially arrived without Malcolm, her boyfriend, a restaurateur looking for financing for his own restaurant.
The youngest girl, Noelle, has become an Orthodox Jew and moved to Israel, where she's rearing four boys with her husband, the feckless, terminally insecure and arrogant Amram. She was the last person to see Leo alive, which gives her a certain cachet. Noelle was a troubled teenager, promiscuous, got kicked out of schools, then became born-again. Now, she keeps kosher and is a militant Jew--but nothing can fill the hole in her psyche.
Thisbe, Leo's widow, arrives with Calder, their three-year-old son. It's hard to know whether the bombshell announcement from Marilyn and David, the Frankel parents, or Thisbe's secret will take first prize in this family game of oneupmanship.
There is very little to like about the Frankels, but the reader ends up loving each and all of them. They are grieving, after all, and should be forgiven for a great deal of bad behavior. Henkin navigates treacherous shoals and brings the reader to shore, stabilizing the craft that is a family without a soppy-sweet ending. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.