Booklist Reviews

The latest by Christensen (The Great Man, 2007) introduces wordy poet-narrator Harry Quirk as a man on the brink of losing his wife, Luz, who kicked him out and destroyed every trace of his latest manuscript, and thusly his entire life in the Astral, the giant old memory-cavern of a building in Brooklyn where they've spent their lives together. Luz, wrongly convinced Harry's been sleeping with his female best friend, is irate and implacable despite Harry's earnest attempts to prove his innocence and continued love for her. Homeless, jobless, and disbelieved by most everyone, Harry begins to take charge of his life in a way he clearly never had to before, getting a crummy job and committing to, with his daughter, rescuing his son from the apparent cult he's joined. A developed cast of characters, not the least of which is Brooklyn itself, populates the narrative, and it comes as somewhat of a relief when Harry realizes he's "become unspeakably, pun intended, bored by the sound and sight of my own poetic voice." A satisfying redoing of a man undone. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews

Breakdown in Brooklyn

Kate Christensen is no slouch when it comes to creating impressive and memorable male characters. In her PEN/Faulkner Award-winning novel The Great Man, readers were introduced to the story of Oscar Feldman, a fictional 20th-century New York figurative painter, told by the voices of the women influencing his life. Now comes The Astral, another important novel in which Christensen perfectly embodies the voice of a male poet in crisis, Harry Quirk.

In Brooklyn, New York (a city where one can find more writers per capita than, perhaps, any other city), Harry—a middle-aged poet whose career is slowly coming to a standstill—finds himself kicked out of the house by his wife, Luz. Convinced that Harry is having an affair with his childhood best friend (which he is not), Luz refuses to let Harry move back to their apartment located in The Astral, a sprawling building that dominates a large block in the neighborhood of Greenpoint. Forced to live in an apartment directly beneath his previous home with Luz, Harry struggles with marital problems, career woes and, most interestingly, immense difficulties with his devout son Hector, who has somehow become the leader of a cult.

While Harry and his freegan, dumpster-diving daughter Karina plot to convince Hector—recently dubbed Bard—that he is not his Christian cult’s newest messiah, Harry spends the rest of his time attempting to remember and rewrite his last batch of poems that Luz had destroyed before she threw him out. Plagued by a failing marriage and a son floundering among the religious ideals of others, Harry struggles to remain connected with his family before the ties are completely severed and he finds himself alone for good.

Christensen 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.

 

Copyright 2011 BookPage Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews

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.

Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews

The Astral, a big, rose-hued apartment building in Brooklyn, NY, has long been home to poet Harry Quirk and his family. But Harry's wife, Luz, has discovered poems that seem to confirm her suspicions of infidelity, and she's tossed him out. Harry, sensing that he's failed as a poet, husband, and father (son Hector is trapped in a crazy Christian cult), decides to straighten out. This latest from Christensen arrives with some promise, as her recent The Great Man won a PEN Faulkner Award. This could be a real charmer; watch.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews

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. (June)

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