The Astral

Kate Christensen, celebrated for her "loser lit" novel The Epicure's Lament and her wonderful The Great Man, among others, may actually become best known for her ability to submerge herself--and the reader--in her characters' psyches. Just as she did in her previous books, Christensen goes deep to explore the motivations behind behaviors.

In The Astral, her focus is on Harry Quirk, at 57 separated from his wife, Luz, and disconnected from their two children. Luz believes that Harry has been carrying on for decades with his friend Marion, and none of his protestations of innocence will convince her otherwise. Harry is a poet, but due both to his personal crises and his bad habits--like drinking beers in the morning at a neighborhood dive--not only has he failed to publish anything in a while (Luz burned his latest manuscript, and being Harry, he has no copy), he needs a real job. After an unfortunate gig as a bookkeeper at his pal Yanti the Hasidic crack addict’s all-Jewish lumberyard shows Harry that there is always further to fall, he decides to help his daughter, Karina, rescue his son, Hector, from life in a quasi-Christian cult.

The book's title refers to the apartment building in Brooklyn's Greenpoint neighborhood where the Quirks live, but by the novel's end it also points to a resigned recognition that all of our efforts to reach the stars are somehow supported by props--and how, sometimes, we treat the people we most love as props instead of as the fully realized individuals we each believe ourselves to be. What makes The Astral fully realized is Christensen's true compassion for Harry Quirk in all of his failures--and even in his small successes. --Bethanne Patrick, editor, Shelf Awareness

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