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.
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...
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).
Full Review (905 words).
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-...
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