Josh Henkin Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Josh Henkin Swimming Across the Hudson

Henkin is an American novelist.

Josh Henkin grew up in New York City. Although he always wanted to be a writer, he did not originally pursue a literary career. Henkin received a B.A. in social studies from Harvard in 1987 and then moved to San Francisco. He got a job reading fiction for a magazine which rekindled his desire to write. He then attended the University of Michigan where he received his master's degree in 1993, and set to work on his first novel, Swimming Across the Hudson (1997). After finding a literary agent, Henkin sold his novel to Putnam where he was disappointed in the publisher's promotion of his novel. He took it upon himself to set up an extensive book tour which brought him considerable attention.

Swimming Across the Hudson tells the story of Ben Suskind, one of two adopted sons of Jewish parents. Ben does not have a strong connection to his Jewish heritage and lives with his gentile girlfriend and her daughter. However, when his birth mother tracks him down and reveals that he was not born Jewish, Ben's world and his relationships are thrown into a tail spin. The novel traces Ben's journey toward self-discovery in his personal relationships and in his Jewish identity. Reaction to Swimming Across the Hudson has been mixed. While most reviewers praise the subject matter and what Dwight Garner calls Henkin's "poise and seriousness of purpose," some find Henkin's understated prose style lacking. Several commentators noted the disappointing ending. Charles Wasserburg asserted that "The novel's compelling lyricism begins to stagger under the weight of the various traumas, real and potential, that appear toward the end."