A Dual Inheritance has been billed as a novel for “readers of Rules of Civility and The Marriage Plot.” This intrigued me, because I adored Rules of Civility and I really disliked The Marriage Plot, but in general like the idea of novels that follow a small group of people over a length of time and that’s what A Dual Inheritance does. Ed and Hugh meet at Harvard, and despite their different backgrounds (Ed is Jewish and from a poor family, Hugh comes from a wealthy family), they become great friends. Helen, Hugh’s high school sweetheart, doesn’t immediately like Ed, but eventually she warms up to his eccentricities. Ed and Hugh disagree about almost everything, but it doesn’t stop their friendship, so when Ed abruptly ends their friendship over a political disagreement, Hugh is confused but doesn’t fight it. Only that’s not why Ed ends their relationship. He did something horrible and he can no longer face his friends.
I really enjoy novels that are told in the style of A Dual Inheritance, sweeping, with time passing quickly so we see the characters at all stages of their lives. We know the mistakes of their past and at the end a small glimpse into their futures, but most of the drama has been played out. The story is complete in a way and that’s very satisfying.
A Dual Inheritance is a novel about the things that we inherit, whether it is material or not. It’s also about the way the mistakes we make, or the choices we make, affect our lives in large and small ways, to the point where they are inherited by our children. Maybe the mistake has taken a different shape by the time the character sees its effect on their child, but there it is. Ed’s father was not a wealthy man and in his old age he was bitter about a promising boxing career that wasn’t and the downturn of his neighborhood. Ed becomes obsessed with money and inheritance and business, precisely because it was the polar opposite of what he grew up with. Hugh, who grew up with money, disregards it completely, devoting his life to building clinics in third world countries.
This is not a complaint, so much as an observation. Everything in this novel is the extreme. Ed is so focused on money. Hugh is so against it. There are coincidences that are almost unbelievable. These are things that would normally bother me, but the characters and the writing kept me enthralled and engaged. There is one scene that felt so real, a pivotal moment for Ed’s daughter Rebecca, and I imagine when the rest of the details have faded from this novel, I will always remember that one scene.
I sometimes felt detached from the characters while reading A Dual Inheritance, which is partially because of the narration style. While the story is narrated in the third person omniscient, it hyper-focuses on certain characters throughout the story, while leaving others strangely distant. Ed and Hugh are the center of the novel, but this is really a story about Ed with some brief breaks to visit Hugh and his family. The character, though, that I felt entirely detached from was Helen. She becomes almost mythical, because she is so rarely present, but constantly talked about. In a way I think this is intentional, but I wanted to get to know her a little bit better. To know what she was really thinking.
I guess I agree with the comparison above. In a lot of ways this does feel like something in between Rules of Civility and The Marriage Plot, but I don’t think it has quite the same level of character development or clarity of writing that either of those novels possess. Perhaps in bursts, in specific scenes, but as a whole I’m afraid this novel might be more forgettable than either of those.
But still, Chapter Fifteen? I’ll remember that forever.
This review is a part of a TLC Book Tour for A Dual Inheritance by Joanna Hershon. I received a free copy of this book as a part of the tour. You can read more about this tour, including other stops on the tour, here.