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The World Without You by Joshua Henkin: My Take on the Book #book2movie #review #trailer

Updated: 5/10/2018
Updated: 2/28/2016
Originally published: 2/12/2013

I usually don’t write about books unless they have been, or are going to be, made into a movie. The book had not been optioned and there was no word on a screen adaptation of The World Without You by Joshua Henkin when I first wrote this post but I loved the book so much I was just wishin’ and hopin’ that it would be. If you’ve read the book, you know what I mean. Henkin has written an emotionally-charged family drama; with strong and intriguing female characters—women so authentic and so interesting I had to double check his name and picture on the jacket several times to make sure he was indeed a man—hapless husbands, boyfriends, a passel of kids and the ever-present spirit of Leo Frankel. It has to be made into a movie. It has to be!

Imagine my thrill when I learned that The World Without You WAS actually going to be adapted for the screen!


I don’t see it in the trades yet but have just heard from a good authority that The World Without You IS going to be made into a film. Damon Shalit (African Gothic, The A-List) is producing, with Dan Pulick writing the script. I’m absolutely thrilled!

The movie is complete! There’s no release date yet but there’s a trailer. And no, none of my dream cast wishes came true. (See the bottom of the post) BUT the cast is made up of talented actors.  All that’s left is to find out when and where it’s playing. Will it pop up on Netflix or Amazon? This curious mind wants to know. I’ve included pictures of the actual cast along with my thoughts on the book, below. 

About the book:

It’s a good thing I’m old enough to know you really can’t judge a book by its cover. I probably wouldn’t have picked up The World Without You were I basing my choice solely on the cover shot of fireworks against the black sky. That would have been my loss. It’s easy to criticize though I’m not sure what I’d suggest to front this beautiful and poignant book about a family coming together for a memorial a year after the death of the family’s only son, Leo Frankel.

A journalist who was killed in Iraq in 2004, Leo has left behind his wife and young son, a trio of older sisters, and his parents so shattered by grief, their marriage has fallen apart. Most of the novel takes place at the family’s vacation house in the Berkshires, over a long Fourth of July weekend. 
Hence the fireworks on the jacket; and okay, maybe a pretty apt visual for what takes place over the course of that weekend. What did I want? A picture of a cemetery, the Fourth of July parade passing by? 

In any case ... look! The paperback from Vintage Contemporaries has a new cover ...

Marilyn and David are Leo’s parents and, on the surface, responding to his death quite differently. 

Chris Mulkey is David, the father

David, a retired high school English teacher, seems to throw himself into life, taking classes, joining things. Actor Chris Mulkey is one of those character actors you see all the time, in everything. A fine actor, he has over a dozen projects in various stages of pre-and post-production.

Suzanne C. Johnson is Marilyn, Leo’s grief-stricken mother

Marilyn, a retired physician, throws herself into Leo’s death by writing Op-Ed pieces on the war. It’s an unbearable thought but if I were Marilyn, that’s what I would do. Shout his name from the rooftops, hammer it home, desperate to keep his memory as alive in the world as it would be in my heart and soul. Motherlove.  David’s refusal - or inability - to grieve outwardly in the only way that Marilyn understands, her way, is the breaking point in their forty-year marriage. As a mother of a son, our only child, it’s too painful to think about, to put myself in her place. I can’t do it, I won’t do it but I have a hunch I would be just as miserably pig-headed as Marilyn in my devastation.

That then is the state of affairs when the girls and their families arrive for the memorial. A difficult time under the best of circumstances and these are not the best of circumstances. 
The women are all such fabulous characters (and in the book, all the sisters are redheads too!)

Perrey Reeves as Clarissa

Clarissa, the eldest at 39, a cellist, is frantic to conceive, going at it with her potential Nobel laureate hubby Nathaniel, whenever her ovulation kit dictates. 

James Tupper (Nathan) as seen in Big Little Lies 

My husband and I married late, we had Russell when I was thirty-nine so her angst over having a child resonated with me. You’ve seen actress Perrey Reeves as Mrs. Ari on Entourage while Tupper played Nathan, Reese Witherspoon’s ex on Big Little Lies, Season One. And yes, good news fellow fans, he’ll be back for season two.

Annika Marks (Noelle) with Suzanne C. Jones

Noelle, the youngest of the sisters was, for me, the most interesting and volatile. A real dirty girl in her teens, she changed her ways, moved to Israel, got married and along with her husband, Amram, became an Orthodox Jew. 

P.J. Byrne (Amram) with Annika Marks (Noelle)

Do you recognize Amram? Another Big Little Lies alum, Noelle’s husband is played by P.J. Byrne, who we know as the principal in the hit HBO show. 

There’s nothing like a reformed sinner and in practicing her religion, Noelle, in an ankle-length denim skirt and head scarf, is observant to the nth degree. The details Henkin includes re the family’s Judaism and Noelle’s Orthodox Judaism in particular, are an aspect of the book that this WASP found fascinating. Practicing real estate in the Los Angeles area, I’ve been in homes where there is a Mezuzah, not just at the front door, but outside the doorway to each bedroom. Sometimes there are two ovens in the kitchen, making it easier to keep a Kosher kitchen. It’s a commitment, to be sure.

 Radha Mitchell (right) is Lily

Lily is the lawyer in the middle, level-headed—because that’s how we middle kids are—private,  in a long-term live-in relationship with Malcolm, a chef looking to open his first restaurant. This is the least dramatic storyline, just what you would expect a middle child to deliver. [Personal note: while I’ve never met Mitchell, my husband was the 2nd AD on Evidence in which she plays a detective hunting down a mass murderer.]

Joel Reitsma (Leo) and Lyndie Greenwood (Thisbe)

Then there is Thisbe, Leo’s widow. A non-Jew and an outsider but the mother of Leo’s son, Calder (a waspy name if I ever heard one), she isn’t sure how she fits in with the family anymore. I found myself appraising her critically, laying down judgment, wishing that Henken had set this memorial two years out from Leo’s death so that her issues would seem less selfish. Too soon, Thisbe, I found myself thinking, too soon. Poor Thisbe has to bear all my Gentile guilt. In the film, they’ve upped the ante. She’s not just a non-Jew, she’s biracial which likely adds some additional drama. You may know actor Lyndie Greenwood best from Sleepy Hollow. 

Lynn Cohen, another famously unfamous character actress is Gretchen

The last lady to play a part in the family drama is Gretchen, David's mother; a wealthy, controlling woman whose presence makes itself felt as surely as Maggie Smith’s Violet on Downton Abbey! Except we all love Violet; Gretchen, not so much.

Back to the book ...

Henkin takes his ensemble and much like a choreographer flawlessly dances them in and out of suppers and tennis matches, hotel rooms and hallways, situations and conversations; each one revealing misunderstood intentions and hurt feelings nursed over time, building, as the family arrives at the day of the memorial itself. It is a hard thing when death comes and rearranges things, messes with our relationships without our consent. It’s difficult to share our grief, to make known our loss. Thisbe and Leo’s sisters do the best they can; Joshua Henkin captures the pathos perfectly and I found my own throat raw with empathy.

This is a beautiful book with a myriad of characters that readers will connect with. I came to know them, and so, to care for them over the course of the novel. Which is why I want to see The World Without You as a film. Action films are good fun but give me a character-driven drama any day! 

While we don’t have a release date, we do have a trailer which was released this month. Does that mean a release is imminent? Shall we take a look? 

My original post from 2013

For the curious at the bottom of the post is my original dream cast for some of the major roles. As you can see none of my casting suggestions have come to pass! 

The first person I’m casting is the always red-hot Jessica Chastain as the more complex and Orthodox Noelle. She was serious as well as sexy in The Debt, flirtatious and insecure in The Help and determined as all get out in Zero Dark Thirty. Right now I think Chastain can do almost anything and I can see her in Noelle’s long skirts. With a little luck and the help of a good cinematographer, the mid-30’s actress might even be able to pull off her teenage self.  I’m not sure about the rest of characters yet—and as my aspiring writer/director filmmaker son reminds me, the sisters don’t all have to actually be “Hair dye, Mom. Remember?’’).  Perhaps an Amanda Peet type as Lily with Maggie Gyllenhaal as Clarissa.

Jessica Chastain in The Debt

Marilyn who is 70 in the book will be a challenging and amazing role for an older actress; the dearth of parts for actresses over 50 being what it is. Get me beautiful Blythe Danner on the phone. If she’s not available how about Dianne Wiest, Helen Mirren, Jacki Weaver? Or even Jane Fonda although looking at her in The Book Club, it’s hard to tell how old she is supposed to be. 

As for the men, maybe Albert Brooks as David, Leo’s dad and the retired high school English teacher.  Or Richard Dreyfuss?

As for someone as big and sloppy as Amram—sorry Jon Favreau but I’m thinking of you! 

I'll let you know as soon as I hear any news about a release date in the meantime, I hope you read the book. If you liked Jonathan Tropper’s This is Where I Leave You, Kari Haut Hemming’s The Descendants or Matthew Quick’s The Silver Linings PlaybookI think you'll love this one.

Originally published 2/12/13