my tragic right hip

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August 25th, 2011

#65 – The Astral

Thunderstorms, summer colds, visiting friends, awesome weather, terrible weather, baby not napping — all of this contributes to being very behind in a) reading and b) blogging. Anyway, I’m going to try and get caught up…

The Astral by Kate Christensen

I ran hot and cold with this novel. I searched for a plot, and then realized that it was more a novel about character than action, which was okay with once I decided to just go with it. The story of an aging poet, Harry Quirk, who has just been tossed out on his elbow from not only his home but his thirty-year marriage to Luz, the novel meanders around their lives, intersects meaningfully with the lives of their children, and brushes up against the lives of many of their friends.

Harry reminded me a great deal of Charles Bukowski, not in appearance, voice, or anything other than the fact he was a poet and liked to have a drink every now and again. That coupled with his rambling persona as he walks the streets of Brooklyn, well, I couldn’t get Bukowski out of my mind — that’s not Christensen’s fault. Anyway, Harry tries and tries to get his wife back, to convince her he is not, nor has he ever been, having an affair with his best friend, a photographer who has just lost her husband. I really liked the relationship between Harry and Marion. It’s rare to see a platonic relationship between a man and a woman so accurately and responsibly produced in print. 

The two kids: Karina and Hector, are products of our modern-day world, and Christensen exploits and explores these contradictions so nicely. Karina’s a lesbian freegan who is neither annoying nor preachy; she’s simply concerned about the state of the Earth and the resources we use (and waste) every day. Her brother. always a bit lost, has gotten mixed up in a quasi-cult where he becomes objectified as the Messiah. As it is with life itself, these stories, rambling, sometimes a tad overwritten, don’t stop as the book ends, there’s no easy conclusion to their problems, and that reads extremely realistic.

Throughout the novel, Harry misses his old life, his old words (Luz through out his latest book of poetry assuming it was written for/to another woman), and desperately tries to get both back. Luz, conflicted, opinionated, and slightly unhinged, won’t hear of it. Curiously, we hear the least from Luz, we see her entirely through Harry’s eyes, through his reminiscence of their marriage, and I missed her voice a little in the novel. Regardless, I was engaged by this book, in ways that I didn’t expect, and enjoyed it immensely, but was looking for broader strokes by the end. Christensen reminds me a little of Jess Walter, another American novelist writing about the modern family, but without his cutting edge, his absurd humour.

Also, I read #66 – Then Came You, Jennifer Weiner’s latest novel, and found it really lacking. It felt far too forced and kind of unbelieveable, although, naturally, it did make me tear up at the end. How does she do that? Oddly, many of the themes that come up in Weiner’s novel actually occurred in the other book I finished, Lorrie Moore’s excellent, A Gate at the Stairs, but with a conviction, a calling and a lot more heartbreak, but I’ll get into that in more detail in an actual review.

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Girl with titanium hip will rock. Girl with titanium hip will write. Girl with titanium hip will read. Girl with titanium hip will battle crazy-ass disease called Wegener's Granulomatosis. Now stuff that in your spelling bee!

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