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The Astral: A Novel Hardcover – June 14, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


Praise for The Astral:

“A tart, compassionate story of marriage gone wrong.”—O Magazine

“Harry Quirk…makes an unexpectedly irresistible hero in this delicious social satire.”—People

"Engaging…wonderfully drawn.  It’s worth noting that Christensen has somehow — again — created a captivatingly believable male narrator, although she can’t see 60 on the horizon, has not been married to a tempestuous Mexican woman for 30 years or published largely ignored poetry in academic journals. (Her previous novel, The Great Man, won the PEN/Faulkner Award.) And yet here she is doing what talented novelists do: creating a voice so rich with the peculiar timbre of lived experience that you feel as though she’s introduced you to a witty, deeply frustrated (and frustrating) new friend."—Ron Charles, The Washington Post

"Christensen...amps up the tension, suspense, and pathos until it feels like the book could ignite in your hands. She’s a spectacular author who’s only beginning to get the attention she so richly deserves, such as the 2008 PEN/Faulkner for The Great Man. Her style is unique in that her work is more based on fascinating and real—maybe too real—characters rather than upon on the same three or four basic plots we’ve seen a million times. And Harry Quirk is one of her greatest creations. (I will admit that I’m also quite partial to Hugo, the creepy hero of The Epicure’s Lament.) Christensen is amazing at capturing male voices and desires, particularly the ones that don’t often get aired outside Philip Roth novels.
I can’t wait to see how Christensen’s work develops over the coming decades. She has the makings of a major American author. Her storytelling derives organically from a firm grasp of characterization and how people work, flaws and all. The Astral, artfully composed and emotionally tender, is evidence of true literary genius."—Andrew Ervin, the Miami Herald

"The book does in fact read like a thriller clothed in beautifully crafted prose."—Holly Cara, Huffington Post

“The best exploration of a middle-aged man’s psyche since Bellow, all the more brilliant for having been written by a woman.”—Bethanne Patrick,  Shelf Awareness (starred)

“Brooklyn has long been the muse of novelists.  In Kate Christensen’s sixth novel, THE ASTRAL, Greenpoint gets its due.  Ah, urban beauty: Christensen gets what’s funny about it, and also what’s disappointing. [Christensen’s] a mischievous writer with a keen eye and ear for comedy, one who sets up precarious scenarios and then lets her characters hash things out."—New York Observer

“With her lead character's name--Harry Quirk--Kate Christensen hands you a road map to her lovely, hilarious, and yeah, OK, quirky new novel, The Astral….  From the precision with which she dissects her characters' foibles to the Brooklyn landscapes she brings to vivid life, Christensen's meditation on marriage is viewed through a poet's eye, and tempered at times with a satirist's soul.”­—Veronique de Turenne, Barnes & Noble Review

“[Christensen’s] characters’ ruminations on how the forces of love and deception work in tandem within a relationship are both searing and concise… [She] is a forceful writer whose talent is all over the page. Her prose is visceral and poetic, like being bludgeoned with an exquisitely painted sledgehammer. She is a portrait artist, drawing in miniature, capturing the light within.”—Janelle Brown, the San Francisco Chronicle

A “sharp perceptive novel...Christensen’s The Astral is provoking and at times profoundly moving.” —Associated Press

“Christensen is a gifted novelist who knows how to deliver the goods when it comes to ruefully funny, bittersweet character sketches.”—Christian Science Monitor

"Not once during The Astral did this reader ever feel like the narrative strayed from the vivid, first-person voice of Harry. Another pleasure of this novel is that Christensen manages to shape this itinerant narrative with unexpected tensions and tenderness. By the conclusion, Harry alters his ways, moving outside the familiar grooves of his old life and begins to chart new territory of employment and relationships. Taken altogether, this entertaining novel reads like an ode to Brooklyn and broken marriages, endings and beginnings, and the spaces in between."—S. Kirk Walsh, the Boston Globe

“Christensen's prose is clean and her characters enthralling….[This] novel is a wonderful investigation of the pitfalls that arise in even the longest of marriages, made possible by a shared history absent in shorter unions.”—Robin Vidimos, the Denver Post

“[This] novel, by turns funny sad, and wise, is glittering with insightful and lovely descriptions, and Harry [Quirk] is so far my favorite fictional character of 2011: he’s complicated, stubborn, smart, foolish, vulnerable, and—man oh man—does he feel real.”—Edan Lepucki, The Millions

"Christensen perfectly embodies the voice of a male poet in crisis, Harry Quirk ... [she] is a master at nailing Harry’s antagonizing voice, and her protagonist does not disappoint. Readers will be sucked into extremely realistic familial dramas while Christensen perfectly captures her Brooklyn backdrop—from dive bars to hipsters drinking overpriced coffee in trendy cafes. With acute perception and witty humor, this bittersweet novel moves along at a tremendous pace, entertaining until its climactic final scene."—Megan Fishman, Bookpage

"Like the rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn of its setting, Christensen's unremittingly wonderful latest (after Trouble) is populated by an odd but captivating mix of characters. At the center is Harry Quirk, a middle-aged poet whose comfortable life is upended one winter day when his wife, Luz, convinced he's having an affair, destroys his notebooks, throws his laptop from the window, and kicks him out. Things, Harry has to admit, are not going well: their idealistic Dumpster-diving daughter, Karina, is lonely and lovelorn, and their son, Hector, is in the grip of a messianic cult. Taking in a much-changed Greenpoint, Brooklyn, while working at a lumberyard and hoping to recover his poetic spark, Harry must come to terms with the demands of starting anew at 57. Astute and unsentimental, at once romantic and wholly rational, Harry is an everyman adrift in a changing world, and as he surveys his failings, Christensen takes a singular, genuine story and blows it up into a smart inquiry into the nature of love and the commitments we make, the promises we do and do not honor, and the people we become as we negotiate the treacherous parameters of marriage and friendship and parenthood."—Publisher's Weekly (starred)

"Christensen (Trouble, 2009, etc.) knows her way around aging characters. Having won the PEN/Faulkner Award for her lively septuagenarians in The Great Man (2007), she now creates a charmingly ribald bohemian poet flailing about in late middle age.
      The title refers to the apartment building where Harry Quirk and his wife Luz, a devoutly Catholic Mexican nurse, have lived in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, for all of their 30-year marriage. Now Luz has kicked Harry out and burnt his latest manuscript of poetry—eschewing popular trends, he writes in rhyme and meter—because she thinks his love poems are proof that he’s been carrying on an affair with his friend Marion. Righteously claiming the poems are written to an imaginary woman, he fights hard to convince Luz of his fidelity and win her back. Meanwhile, he hangs out in his Greenpoint neighborhood, finds work at a Hasidic lumberyard where he’s the only non-Jew, drinks at his local bars, visits Marion and discusses why they have never been and never will be lovers and moves from living space to living space until he ends up staying with his daughter Karina, a 25-year-old vegan dumpster-diving activist. He and Karina make visits to Karina’s older brother Hector, always Luz’s favorite, who has abandoned her Catholicism and joined a Christian cult led by a sexy charlatan who plans to marry Hector. While Harry wanders through his days, drinking, conversing, picking fights, trying to talk to Luz, who says she wants a divorce and won’t see him, his Brooklyn world of aging bohemians comes vividly to life. There’s not a lot of active plot here, but each minor character is a gem. As for Harry, by the time he faces the truth about his marriage and finds a measure of hard-earned happiness, or at least self-awareness, he has won the reader’s heart. He’s a larger-than-life, endearing fool.
      A masterpiece of comedy and angst. Think Gulley Jimson of Joyce Cary’s The Horses Mouth transported from 1930s London to present-day Brooklyn."—Kirkus Reviews (starred)

Praise for Kate Christensen:

“Christensen is the kind of writer who’s willing to say things most people don’t dare to. And she knows exactly how to say them.”

“[Her] characters are marvelously realized, and when Christensen’s on a roll, her wit is irresistible.”
Publishers Weekly

“Christensen’s writing is clear-eyed, bitingly funny, and supremely caustic about the niceties of social relations, contemporary American culture, and sexual...

About the Author

KATE CHRISTENSEN is the author of five previous novels, most recently Trouble. The Great Man won the 2008 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. She has written reviews and essays for numerous publica­tions, most recently the New York Times Book Review, Bookforum, Tin House, Elle, and Open City. She lives in New York City.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (June 14, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385530919
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385530910
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,440,592 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By TemeculaMomma on June 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Warning: Slight spoiler alert

The Astral is a very well-written novel that is worth checking out. The characters are genuine and believable, with exception to one, but I'll get into that later. The main character, Harry Quirk, is a middle-aged poet struggling with the erosion of his 30 year marriage. Kate Christensen does an outstanding job of narrating from the male perspective. Harry is easy for the reader to connect with despite the fact that he is far from perfect. He has stumbled in the past, but is innocent of his wife Luz's current accusations of an affair, leading to much heartache and frustration. This comes through vividly without being depressing to read.

I really enjoyed the storylines involving Harry's adult children Hector and Karina. Karina leads a freegan lifestyle, dumpster diving to obtain discarded goods in order to "redistribute them to the poor". She also happens to be gay, but the topic is not a focal point. Harry and Luz are accepting of her orientation, and it is merely a descriptor such as her age or hair color. (I mention this because if you are looking for a book that delves into the subject of parents coming to terms with a child being gay, then this is not that book.) I found the freeganism to be very interesting and I liked Karina's fiesty personality. Hector's sub-plot of joining a religious cult was facinating. As I read the main plot about Harry and Luz's shambles of a marriage, I found myself hoping that the next chapter would involve another visit to the cult's compound.

So why four stars instead of five? Well, first of all, not a whole lot happens in The Astral.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By reader on June 14, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
I thought Kate Christensen had peaked when she won (deservedly) The Penn Faulkner Award for "The Great Man." Surely, I imagined, nothing she could do would top that novel, which is astonishingly rich, brilliantly original and a literary feast (As was "The Epicure's Lament", another terrific novel that surpassed my wildest expectations and made me know her a not just a wordsmith, but a first rate epicurean author.) But I was wrong. Five pages into "The Astral", I realized that Christensen is a writer who is just beginning to show her legs -- a thoroughbred who consistently produces literary gems, each more layered and masterful than the last. What strikes me most is her remarkable agility and the ease with which she appears to create whole worlds within her novels, worlds which are at once strange and familiar, known and shocking. Her characters are people one could swear they had passed on the street only yesterday, or the day before -- she lifts the veil on humanity and in doing so makes us recognize ourselves and lends compassion to strangers we will never, in fact, be as close to as she always, always gets. "The Astral" had me alternately gasping with laughter and verging on tears; Brooklyn has never been so vibrant, struggling marriages have never been so hilarious and poignant, and books just aren't the same when she hasn't lent her particular brand of magic to their pages. She ranks among not only our finest living female authors but among all authors of any gender writing today, Not since Updike have I seen a talent like this, a surety with plot and dialogue which makes me greedily turn pages and press the book to my chest when I have finished, waiting for the next triumph. Read "The Astral" and be in the state of literary-induced delight that only Kate Christensen can summon. I envy you the experience.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
are not solved by easy answers. In Kate Christensen's new novel, "The Astral", she gives the reader the Quirk family - (interesting choice of surname - the family is fairly "quirky"), parents living a the Brooklyn area of Greenpoint and the adult children having flown the coop to begin their own lives. The parents - Harry, a poet and Luz, a nurse - who couldn't be more different in background, looks, and personality, have reached a point in their marriage where it has died. Both realise it, but realising and acting on the knowledge are two different things. Luz accuses Harry of having an affair with a good friend of his - not true - and despite his pleading with her, she throws him out of their apartment. Along with his body, she also throws out his soul by destroying a book of poems he as been working on. He goes through temporary living conditions and jobs.

The year or so that Christensen writes in Harry's first-person voice relates to the comings and goings, the ying and the yang, as the two come to terms with their past and their future. Complicating matters are their children. Hector, the older child and Luz's favorite, has found a sense of peace in a community that Harry and Karina, his daughter, quickly peg as a "religious cult". Can he be "saved" from the clutches of the cult, or does he even want to be "saved"? Hector has gone from Luz's form of Catholic fervor to claiming to be the "returning Messiah". Karina, a lesbian and dumpster-diving "free-gan" is a relatively bland member of the family quartet and primarily serves as father Harry's foil. Also in the story are the strongly drawn peripheral characters - other family members, friends, and neighborhood figures.

Luz wants to end the marriage but she cannot do so in a straight forward manner.
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