Thursday, July 7, 2011
Book Review: "The Astral" by Kate Christensen
Is unhappiness a natural part of marriage? How long should you fight for something you want, and if you stop fighting for it, does that mean you no longer want it? Can you love someone even if they're utterly wrong for you? These questions, and many others, are addressed in Kate Christensen's fantastic new novel, The Astral.
Harry Quirk is a poet in his early 50s who had once experienced some acclaim for his work, but his style is now considered outdated. One morning his wife, Luz, a fiercely passionate and paranoid woman, accuses him of having a long-time affair with his oldest friend, Marion, and she throws him out of their Brooklyn apartment, destroying his latest work, love sonnets to imaginary women. No matter what anyone tells Luz, she clings to the idea that Harry has been unfaithful, and reinvents every encounter he had with Marion as proof of his affair. Locked out of his apartment, his work destroyed, Harry briefly stays at a flophouse before moving from place to place, and finds a job at a lumberyard run by Hasidic Jews. As he tries repeatedly to convince an unpersuadable Luz about his innocence, he tries living a normal life, although for Harry, that includes drinking to excess in his neighborhood bar, talking with Marion about why their relationship never moved beyond friendship, and trying to rescue his son, Hector, from the religious cult he has joined, one that believes he is the second coming of the Messiah.
Kate Christensen did a phenomenal job with this book. While I didn't enjoy Luz's character at all and wondered why Harry would fight so hard to keep a marriage that often sounded so challenging, the other characters in this book were so vivid and rich, and I enjoyed spending time with them. Christensen is a terrific writer (although, admittedly, I've never read any of her previous novels) and I found myself really invested in Harry's story. I've said before that a great book is one where you wonder about what happens to the characters once you've finished reading. That was definitely the case with The Astral. It may sneak up on you while you're reading it, but you'll definitely enjoy it.