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.
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).
A tart, compassionate story of marriage gone wrong.
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.
With acute perception and witty humor, this bittersweet novel moves along at a tremendous pace, entertaining until its climactic final scene.
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.
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.
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.
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-threatening garbage heaps.
In response, freegans choose to boycott this way of life and follow a few specific, ethical principles. According to Freegan.Info, these principles...
Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. An indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time.
In Love Is a Canoe, Ben Schrank delivers a smart, funny, romantic, and hugely satisfying novel about the fragility of marriage and the difficulty of repairing the damage when well-intentioned people forget how to be good to each other.
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