Summary and book reviews of The Astral by Kate Christensen

The Astral

A Novel

By Kate Christensen

The Astral
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Jun 2011,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2012,
    320 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Guidarini

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Book Summary

The Astral is a huge rose-colored old pile of an apart­ment building in the gentrifying neighborhood of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. For decades it was the happy home (or so he thought) of the poet Harry Quirk and his wife, Luz, a nurse, and of their two children: Karina, now a fer­vent freegan, and Hector, now in the clutches of a cultish Christian community. But Luz has found (and destroyed) some poems of Harry's that ignite her long-simmering sus­picions of infidelity, and he's been summarily kicked out. He now has to reckon with the consequence of his literary, marital, financial, and parental failures (and perhaps oth­ers) and find his way forward - and back into Luz's good graces.

Harry Quirk is, in short, a loser, living small and low in the water. But touched by Kate Christensen's novelistic grace and acute perception, his floundering attempts to reach higher ground and forge a new life for himself become funny, bittersweet, and terrifically moving. She knows what secrets lurk in the hearts of men - and she turns them into literary art of the highest order.

Chapter One

Toxic water streamed with gold like the belly of a turning fish: sunset over Newtown Creek. Tattered pinkish-black clouds blew overhead in the March wind. The water below me rippled with tendons and cowlicks. Just across the brief waterway were the low mute banks of Hunters Point, church spire, low-slung old warehouses. An empty barge made its way down the creek toward the East River and the long glittering skyscrapery isle. I stood behind the chain-link fence the city had slapped up to keep the likes of me from jumping in.

I was hungry and in need of a bath and a drink. At my back thronged the dark ghosts of Greenpoint, feeding silently off the underwater lake of spilled oil that lay under it all, the polyfluorocarbons from the industrial warehouses. I had named this place the End of the World years ago, when it was an even more polluted, hopeless wasteland, but it still fit.

As I stood staring out through the webbing of fence, my mind cast itself through the rivulets of my...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Harry Quirk's obsession with his imploding marriage forms a central arc in The Astral.  Do you trust his narrative of the marriage and its dissolution?  How does your opinion of him evolve as you read the novel?

  2. Luz is convinced that Harry is sleeping with Marion.  Although her accusations of sexual intimacy are unfounded, Harry and Marion are very close friends.  Do you think that it is possible to commit emotional infidelity, and if so, is Harry guilty of it?  How would you define an "emotional affair"?

  3. In Chapter Fourteen, Harry visits his wife's therapist, Helen.  What do you make of Harry's animosity towards her?  Why do you think the author included this confrontation?

  4. Harry's work-in-...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

The Astral is a close examination of how difficult relationships can be and what factors converge to bring about their demise. Though somewhat dark in overall tone, Christensen knows how to relieve the tension... I give this book four stars for its entertaining, deeply thought-out plot and vivid characters. What small flaws it does have - such as slight lags in the plot - are more than made up for otherwise. A recommended read.   (Reviewed by Lisa Guidarini).

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Media Reviews
O Magazine

A tart, compassionate story of marriage gone wrong.

People

Harry Quirk… makes an unexpectedly irresistible hero in this delicious social satire.

Miami Herald

The Astral, artfully composed and emotionally tender, is evidence of true literary genius.

The San Francisco Chronicle

[Christensen] 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.

The Washington Post - Ron Charles

Christensen has… created a captivatingly believable male narrator… 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… a passionate, sexist, loving, complex man named Harry Quirk. Alive, like us. Go meet him.

Bookpage

With acute perception and witty humor, this bittersweet novel moves along at a tremendous pace, entertaining until its climactic final scene.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. A masterpiece of comedy and angst. Think Gulley Jimson of Joyce Cary's The Horse's Mouth transported from 1930s London to present-day Brooklyn.

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Freeganism

In The Astral, the Quirk's daughter Karina is a practicing "freegan" - a term that comes from a fusion of the words "free" and "vegan" (although not all freegans are vegans) - and as such, she chooses to eschew conventional consumerism. recycling symbol Often referred to as "dumpster divers," freegans generally believe that western society throws away too many useable goods - including food - and they consciously limit their participation in the current, profit-driven economic system. This wasteful mentality, they explain, increases the need for more landfills, leaches pollution into ground water, and threatens an already compromised environment; once a dump is full, more must be built, and open land is transformed into unsightly and health-...

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