Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin

TitleMorningside Heights
AuthorJoshua Henkin
FinishedMay 28, 2022
My Rating
View/Purchase (Non affiliate)Amazon

Misery porn.

Prudence is an undergraduate with the brilliant Spencer as one of her teachers. He is the youngest to ever have won a particular fellowship. He was married before and has a son from that union. Pru and Spence marry and do not live happily ever after. Spence develops dementia and Pru’s role switches to caregiver. We see in excruciating detail the ravages of dementia. The son from his first marriage and their daughter have roles that seem to be there only to exacerbate the problems. 

Spence is a genius which is supposed to make his fall that much more dramatic. With the name “Prudence” I wondered if this is supposed to be an allegory. I don’t see that. The characters are built up in such a way to add to the misery of Spence’s disease.

After finishing the book I looked at a few reviews online sure I would see something along the lines of “unflinching portrait”. Sure enough the second highlighted review calls it an “unflinching novel.” To me it is more like nihilism. Back in the 1980s I read two novels back to back: Thomas McGuane’s Ninety-two in the Shade and Jay McInerney’s Ransom. In both stories loners move to another land to reinvent themselves only  to be murdered. I was so depressed by the novels I gave up reading fiction for a year. Morningside Heights is in the same vein: “Life sucks, then you die”. I don’t mind people dying in stories I read; in fact I can also get irritated by “they all lived happily ever after” stories. But I do expect to find something about the human spirit in the middle. I didn’t see that in this novel. 

This is a good time to remind you that my star ratings are a reflection of how much I liked (or didn’t) the book I read. It is not some sort of objective quality rating. Morningside Heights has a solid 4-star rating from 961 reviews on Amazon. 

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