The Miseducation of Henry Cane
By Charles Brooks
Read by Timothy Andrés Pabon
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (August 6, 2019)
Runtime: 5 hours and 15 minutes
A stunning coming-of-age novel about one young man’s eye-opening sexual awakening at the hands of an intriguing older woman.
Henry Cane knows exactly what he’s going to do with the rest of his life.
That’s the problem.
Born into the rarefied world of Manhattan wealth and privilege, after graduating from Princeton, Henry is about to start his perfectly planned out life. He’s always known he will move back to Manhattan and be groomed to take over his father’s publishing business. He’s destined to date a string of appropriate girls until he dates the most appropriate girl and asks her to marry him.
It’s all so awfully tedious.
But Henry’s been given eight weeks to do something else, to be an entirely different person. When his parents leave him alone in their Sag Harbor estate for the summer, Henry embarks on a double life as Joe, a blue collar fisherman on the other side of the bay. Once ensconced in his fake identity, he finds himself entangled in an affair with an alluring, older European woman—who happens to be married. As he becomes more and more infatuated with her, their affair threatens to unravel his tightly wound story, and could jeopardize his entire future.
This is the story of a boy becoming a man, shaped by the hands of women who truly control the narrative.
Looking at the S&S webpage for this book I see there is a tie-in to Younger, a show on the TVLAND Network – I just read that one of the show’s characters is supposed to be the writer. But, I have never even heard of this show so I can only tell you about the novel on its own merits. The author is apparently a character on this show. I thought this story was trying very hard to fit the mold of a 1960s-70s film like The Graduate, maybe with a soupcon of the cross-classist Love Story. But, from a few cultural references, I believe that it is placed in the 1990s.
There maybe some message there but, Henry’s Mrs. Robinson doesn’t have a daughter also in a relationship with Henry and no one dies from leukemia. There are three youngsters who have important places in the story:
Henry is the main character. A privileged graduate with a career spending the summer at his family beach house in the Hamptons, he is not so much self-absorbed as he is lacking in agency. He admits this to the reader immediately. He’s in love with literature, but somehow seems to resent going into the family’s publishing business at the end of the summer. He tells us that his life has been directed by women: first his mother and then his ex-girlfriend. Now, as he, somewhat literally, floats through summer with neither a girlfriend or his mom to direct him he acts without thought to the consequences. It’s not that he is passive, he is submissive. He believes he has no choice in his future and therefore his present is like a phantom. He adopts a working-class persona and picks up a new job on a whim.
The closest Henry gets to being directed when his at first is his friend Sperry, totally entitled and unaware of his status, or his perception thereof. He is thrilled to be going into the job he has always wanted in mergers and acquisition. Sperry comes from a very broken home filled with his father’s ex-wives, but he refers to women in an abominable way, and is upbraided by Henry, who is much more respectful. If Sperry doesn’t act with more awareness I see a harassment suit in his future.
Kit is a smart and determined young woman from the working class with aspirations to college and a career. But, she lacks the means and is wary of anyone offering help. She provides the cross-class tension found in the movie Love Story. The mysterious European woman is younger than me, but older than Henry at first believes.
Henry is not bad, or stupid, he is just adrift in a boat without his usual captains. He cares about people and always wants to help. SOmehow, though he acts with the means of an adult, there is something childish in his behavior. At one point he says he has been treated as an adult his whole life and has always tried to behave thus, but to me this is an inaccurate assessment of his maturity.
I am not sure why Henry decided to adopt the persona of Joe, why he uses it to interact with people outside his milieu. It is, of course, something that serves him poorly in the end, and is so obviously a bad idea that we see Henry’s immaturity right off.
I thought his relationship with the older woman was an obvious nod to The Graduate’s Mrs. Robinson. But Mrs. Robinson was involved with The Graduate’s Ben Braddock out of spite and malice. In this story, the woman involved with Henry is more about boredom, frustration and loneliness.
Mr. Pabon’s narrative voice as Henry is soothing and understated. It felt suited to the character. I don’t know why this is classified as humorous or women’s fiction; I felt it should be literary fiction and coming-of-age. And, I don’t think the “sexual-awakening” is the most important or central theme of the story.
I can’t say I liked the book, and I think it was its use of them aforementioned cultural references that I felt were used out of context. It’s not terribly long so it’s a good vacation read.
“Author” on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19477078.Charles_Brooks