Christensen Rock: THE ASTRAL by Kate Christensen (is my boyfriend)Posted: August 30, 2011
WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT: What is Kate Christensen’s THE ASTRAL about? It’s so good you were wondering about that question because that’s basically all of what today’s blog is about! And I come up with a new literary theory. Read on!
Harry Quirk is our first-person narrator, a middle aged poet of former reknown who resides in Brooklyn. This is such a brilliant set up for a first person narrator, because a.) the poet part means he can get away with lots of novelistic description of locales and people’s mannerisms in the first person and you can’t say “Well, people don’t really talk like that,” because poets, with their brains full of sestinas and metaphors actually probably DO talk like that, b.) the Brooklyn setting makes the born-and-raised narrator and story he tells automatically hip and c.) the middle-aged part tempers both the poet thing and the Brooklyn thing so you’re not holding a cross and garlic and holy water in front of you screaming “Begone, Literary Hipness, begone, you will not turn me into a navel-gazing, self-important Literary Hip-pire!”
The story starts off with the kind of blast-your-eardrums-to-pieces shotgun bang horseraces begin with when Harry’s wife Luz, a down to Earth nurse who is everything Harry is not and nothing that he is, discovers a book of poems Harry is working on, about a fictional woman, believes the poems to be about a real woman Harry is having an affair with, destroys the poems, Harry’s last, best chance at success in his field, and kicks her husband out of the apartment they share in the Astral, a falling-to-pieces rose colored building in Greenpoint, NY.
As Harry races through the novel trying to win his wife back, the lives of his children are woven in- Karina, a lesbian “freegan” (I thought this meant, like, “an even more vegan vegan” but it actually just means “dumpster diver”) and Hector, a fervently religious young man who is swept up in a doomsday cult that is half- Amish, half drinking-poisoned-Koolaid-in-South-America. Also in the mix: a Hassidic lumberyard, a psychopath therapist that manipulates the large group of friends that see her, and questionable religious miracles.
This book is firing off of all “good novel” cylinders. Conflicted and compelling characters, prose that manages to straddle the line between razor sharp and chest-pulled-apart-on-the-operating-table open heartedness, with some juicy, thematic”"big questions” thrown in for fun- Where does love hide in a fucked up family? How do you start your new beginning when you aren’t ready to say goodbye to your old ending? What happens to those poets you used to see in The New Yorker while you were flipping to the comics that you don’t see in The New Yorker anymore?
Here’s what I love most THE ASTRAL. It’s basically a bunch of really great gossip about people in the book. Did you hear why that poet’s wife no one cares about anymore kicked him out of the house? Did you hear who joined a cult and is now the cult’s semi-messiah? Did you hear about the therapist who is treating all your friends who is secretly super unethical and manipulative and crazy-brained? Um, if someone asked me any of the above questions in real life I would sit my ass down and listen to the story. Which makes me wonder: is great storytelling and great gossip essentially the same thing?
Has anyone made up this theory before? Can it be mine? The Great And Powerful Books are my Boyfriends Theory About Literature as Gossip and Gossip as Literature?
I’m reading Christensen’s THE GREAT MAN right now, which I will most likely cover next week-times. Also great gossip, but it’s PEN/Faulkner award-winning gossip. Yeah, yeah, yeah!
What Kind of Boyfriend He Is: A middle-aged poet-no-one-cares-about-anymore who writes poems about another woman while you work forty hours a week to keep the electricity and internet-cable going. Yeah, dude is a keeper all right.
My Date with THE ASTRAL:
Oh, cool! Astral, you wrote new poems! I want to read your new poems!
Wait a second, these poems are all about some red-headed lady with triple-F boobs.
Yeah, sorry, Astral you can’t live with me anymore.