Originally published May 2013
Money, success and love. Them themes just never get old.
Joanna Hershon takes all three to task in her latest book, “A Dual Inheritance.” For the less erudite (and that would be me), the dual inheritance theory basically is this—human behavior is impacted both by genetics and culture. Such is the case for the book’s two male leads, Ed Cantowitz and Hugh Shipley. Meeting at Harvard, Ed and Hugh become intense, if not just a bit reserved, friends. Ed wants desperately to escape the clutches of his lower-middle-class upbringing, and Hugh isn’t exactly driven to remain a part of the very-upper-class circle in which his family resides.
When Hugh’s high school flame enters, fireworks fly for everyone. Helen Ordway’s background isn’t much different from Hugh’s, but an unplanned pregnancy and subsequent abortion didn’t do Hugh any favors with her family. Nonetheless, he’s undeterred at re-establishing their relationship. And Ed is undeterred at using what he can of Hugh to establish himself in the upper echelon. (Watch out for awkward “Hey come meet my asshole dad!” adventure prompted by Ed. Not sure who I felt sorrier for in that situation. But it wasn’t Ed.)
The book has a Gatsbyish, “Rules of Civility” feel to it—Ed is indeed a reckless feck. Yet, it’s hard to completely write him off, as his heartbreak is vivid, and the love for his daughter so evident. Misguided in his deeds, his intentions aren’t evil—just unnecessary. And then there’s Hugh. You almost wonder what kind of life he could have had, were he been able to shed the “I need to be anything besides who I am” vibe.
The book spans a large chunk of Ed and Hugh’s adult life—and that of their children, Ed’s daughter Rebecca and Hugh’s daughter Vivi. It’s about relationships. It’s about coming to terms with what (or who) you really want. And it’s about forgiveness on some level. It’s not a fast-paced read, but became engrossing after the first several chapters. Great for long rainy weekend or a few days at the beach.