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Off Course: A Novel

3.36  ·  Rating Details  ·  821 Ratings  ·  162 Reviews
"Skillful and perceptive . . . A complex portrait of a woman under the influence: of love, then obsession."—The New York Times Book Review (Editors' Choice)

The year is 1981. The United States has just installed Ronald Reagan in the White House, and Cressida Hartley, a Ph.D. candidate in economics, has relocated to her parents' A-frame in the Sierras. There, she plans to fi
Paperback, 304 pages
Published April 7th 2015 by Picador (first published April 1st 2014)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jul 31, 2015 Diane rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: unfinished
This novel started off promising, but the writing is uneven and there are too many characters and not enough meat. I decided to abandon it when I caught myself sighing before picking up the book.

The story is set in 1981*, and Cress (short for Cressida) needs to finish her economics dissertation. She works out a deal with her parents in which she'll stay in their cabin in the woods for a few months, giving her a chance to write, but she can also keep an eye on a construction crew her father hired
Jon Boorstin
May 26, 2014 Jon Boorstin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Growing up is a dirty business. It’s messy and uncertain, treacherous and humiliating. We greedily grab at the wrong things, or the wrong people. Along the way we become someone we don’t like, or even recognize. But if we’re persistent, and resiliant, and open to surprises, we may cobble together a version of ourselves that feels like our own. Michelle Huneven’s fine new novel captures the pain, the mystery, and the confusion of becoming yourself.

It’s honest about the cost. But it also reveals
Dec 26, 2014 Janet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book may inspire a new shelf, a substratum of 'the love story', which is 'the mistress's story.' A young, but not too young, woman looking for something for more in her life, more fun, more juice, something to really matter, than her economics dissertation, which seems, the longer she waits to complete it, less and less necessary. She moves up to the Sierra, into her parents' cabin--where, ironically, her parents had taken her and her sister as teenagers to remove them from the temptation o ...more
switterbug (Betsey)
Cressida Hartley is suffering from a serious case of ennui. At 28, she is stagnating in ABD status, trying to finish her dissertation in economics, wholly disliking her field of expertise. It's the eighties, and Reaganomics doesn't suit her. But she found a way to integrate her affinity with art with her thesis--she's writing about the value of art in the marketplace. So she moves to her parents vacation A-frame in the Sierras, intending to wrap herself in the mountain air, solitude, and writing ...more
Jan 01, 2014 Edan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is so beautiful. Although I loved the prose and the setting from the beginning, its episodic style was hard to get into. I had a difficulty remembering who characters were, and sometimes the summarized nature made it hard to really feel invested in the heroine's, Cressida's, conflicts. But, but! I am so glad I stuck with this. This novel accrues meaning and beauty and heft as it goes on, and it's devastating. I was so moved by the ending, my throat heavy, my eyes tearing up...Huneven d ...more
Nov 17, 2014 Melinda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Economics Ph.D candidate Cressida Hartley escapes to her family’s cabin nestled in the Sierras for three months in hopes of writing her dissertation, however, she finds herself distracted.

A story of choices, particularly the choices of Cressida Hartley, the focal point of the novel. Cressida is at a turning point in life. Her decisions will leave you shaking your head in frustration. I can’t count the number of times I felt like crawling through the book to shake sense into her. She’s rather com
Jun 29, 2014 Nette rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I stayed up late into the night to finish this book. (And then I stayed up later to go online and order a copy for a friend's birthday.) It isn't a thriller or a mystery or anything with a twist ending: it's just so damn well written and relatable that I had to find out what happened. Maybe it's because it takes place in 1981 -- when all my friends were experiencing similar romantic trials -- or maybe it was the incredibly vivid portrayal of a funky cabin community.

I wish I could add an extra h
Caroline Thornton
I can more than relate to this book and that's why I liked it so much. I myself went "of course" in my early twenties..lived in a remote mountain town, spent time with all the wrong men and generally lost (and then found) myself. Its quite honestly the same story except mine didn't take place in the eighties (side note - still haven't figured out how that was relevant to the story) and I got a hold of myself far sooner than our protaganist. She's intelligent and lazy, careless and entitled, emot ...more
Apr 26, 2014 Susan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not really sure why this novel was not as good as I thought it would be. I liked her prior novel called Blame. But in this one, I just couldn't seem to get inside either of the main characters, Cress or Quinn. I just couldn't like either of them or feel sorry for them. And if her motivations really came from working out issues with her family, why didn't the story really tell us more about her family? Both parents seemed like two dimensional cardboard characters. The nature description of the mo ...more
Jun 22, 2014 Sarah rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm so disappointed with this one! I'd been looking forward to its arrival in the library since ordering it this spring, and it has such a nice cover, and I just really wanted to love it...but I couldn't stand the main character, Cress, or anyone else for that matter. They all seem so self-absorbed and miserable, and I didn't care about any of the mountain men or their leather outfits or fire building skills. I don't understand why it was set in the early eighties and I'm not entirely sure I kno ...more
I love the way Michelle Huneven expresses herself, but I didn’t love the plot or characters of this book. Her first three novels had overarching themes that were quite similar to one another – all very good, but I was looking forward to reading this novel, which sounded from the synopsis like it would be very different. It was, but for me not in a good way.

The main character, Cress, was so unfocused (which I realize was the point of the book) that I quickly lost interest in her. Her pattern of
Melissa Lee-Tammeus
I picked up this book because I loved the B&W picture on the front. I would love to have it as a print. It speaks volumes for the story that unfolds. It took me a long time to warm to the main character as I was initially intrigued because the premise of the story line was she went to a remote cabin to work on a dissertation, but that is only one small factor of this story. It turns out to be about a relationship that turns one inside out. Her moral ground is a bit shaky which was cause for ...more
May 28, 2014 Carolynmora rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved it, I love everything by this author. If you are annoyed by people making a lot of bad decisions, this might not be for you. I'd consider it part of one of my favorite genres - "loser lit". Great cast of characters.
Apr 22, 2014 Julia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Off Course,Michelle Huneven

I don't usually bother to review my five star reads , but made an exception in this case hoping that more people might pick up Off Course.

I'm afraid readers might shy away because of the subject matter...after all , how good can a tale of obsessive love be ? But somehow Huneven makes her maddeningly wrongheaded characters compelling. There are memorable touches to her portrayals of people, and her writing is as elegant and shimmering as always.

I was totally enthrallle
I gave it 50 pages and then decided not to continue. I understand Huneven is quite good, but today I wanted more linguistic play or stylism, maybe something more challenging, and I felt stubbornly resistant to reading a story of obsessive relationships. On page eleven of D'Erasmo Art of Intimacy which I picked up just after I set this novel down, a possible reason:
I have noticed that the intimacy we feel as readers is often generated far less by characters turning to one another [me: or to the
Oct 16, 2014 Jane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. I know that some readers feel it's merely an "easy read" of a young woman who hasn't yet found herself. She heads to the family cabin in the Sierras and proceeds to fall in lust/love with older men as she avoids completing her dissertation, which is the ostensible reason she's gone into this wilderness. Being familiar with the landscape (although not the eccentrically populated social scene that centers around a lodge owned by Jakey, one of Cress's lovers) I could see and smel ...more
Elizabeth Wallen
Apr 14, 2015 Elizabeth Wallen rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I loathed this book. I loathed the main character, really most of the characters. I can't believe it was set in the 80's because the main character had more of the aimless drifting, self entitled narcissism usually attributed to a more recent generation. This book is about a young woman who is supposed to be boarding herself up in her family's vacation cabin somewhere in the mountains in California. She is SUPPOSED to be finishing her doctoral thesis in economics. Instead she fritters her days a ...more
Andy Miller
This novel started out well. Set in 1981 when an economics student, Cressida, retreats to her parents' cabin in the Sierra Nevada mountains to force a finish to her PHD dissertation away from all distractions. There is an interesting tension of love and irritation with her parents, an early feminist perspective on a male academic field and a nice portrait of mountain town living. But the novel loses steam as Cressida falls in love with a married man and the rest of the novel follows this obsessi ...more
Jan 02, 2015 Toby rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Let me begin by saying the last third of this book is much more engaging than the first two-thirds.

Cressida Hartley heads to her parent's remote vacation cabin to write her dissertation. Looking for any excuse to delay, she gets involved with the locals, including, ultimately, an affair with a married man.

Along the way and through other characters, the author explores the nature of love and passion as it plays out in a small community, full of people with differing values. It also forces you to
Jeff V.
Jun 21, 2014 Jeff V. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Blame” was one of my favorite novels of the last few years and so I happily purchased Michelle Huneven’s newest, “Off Course” without paying too much attention to the reviews. Huneven is not a writer of tight plots, cliff hangers and unexpected twists. Rather, her writing is like a journey down a quietly meandering stream which starts turning into something much bigger and more powerful almost without you realizing it. Like Jhumpa Lahiri, she’s an expert at creating a mood, usually melancholy w ...more
Melanie Page
Apr 11, 2016 Melanie Page rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: grab-the-lapels
“She wasn’t making specific plans, but that hairline crack, she knew, could widen instantly to accommodate her, and day by day, its thin blackness grew less frightening, more logical and familiar, as if she could now walk right up, touch it with her fingertips, and, with a quick last smile over her shoulder at the fading world, slip right in. She was sorry. If she ever did, he’d mistake it for the meanest thing imaginable. But the natural outcome of abandonment was a failure to thrive, to surviv
Roberta King
While interesting, this wasn't the most satisfying book.
I wanted to feel more compassion or loathing for the main character Cressida, but she left me ambivalent. The premise is good, she's moved up to her parent's cabin to work on her PhD and instead takes to sleeping around with the locals and then gets tangled up with a married man. They fall in and out of love and wreak havoc on each other. I wish I would have either loved her or hated her for it, but she didn't move me either way.
I felt as i
Apr 04, 2014 Claire rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I received Off Course as part of a Goodreads giveaway.

Cressida Hartley escapes to the small resort town in the California mountains where she spent her childhood summers to work on her long-unfinished dissertation. Despite her best intentions, she finds herself pulled into the life of the town and its hardy, colorful array of inhabitants, including one Quinn Morrow, a very intense, very married carpenter.

I identified with Cress. We're at similar stations in our personal and professional lives, t
Apr 14, 2014 Erin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-adored
Loved this book. I totally got Cress. I think her situation, or something like it, is pretty common nowadays. Avoiding making decisions, delaying the start of "life", etc. And for her it had consequences. She chose to drift through life, allowing men to dictate how she lived, what she wore, and even worse - these men were unavailable to truly be with her.

I loved the writing and the way her story unfolded. It was like watching an accident unfold in very slow motion. Cress couldn't help herself,
Len Joy
Aug 18, 2015 Len Joy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think one of the toughest challenges for a writer is to make the inexplicable explicable. And the challenge is even greater when the characters aren’t what we like to call “likeable.”

Cress is a twentysomething Econ grad student at the dawn of the Reagan era. She retreats to a small town in the mountains of northern California to finish her dissertation. She has what we have to consider, all things considered, a bright future. But she falls in lust/love with a married man twenty years older th
Melina Maresca
May 15, 2014 Melina Maresca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kirkus has this book on it's 10 most overlooked books of the year and I agree. The prose and pace are perfect and the lonesome but beautiful setting fits the plot. Cressida and Quinn's passionate affair turns to dejection as Quinn waffles back and forth as to whether to leave his wife. The affair takes both partners "off course." While Cressida's descent into obsession and self-negect may become irritating in the last half of the book, the novel's other attributes make up for this. And thankfull ...more
Aug 09, 2015 Leah rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-read-2015
Although I did not choose to read this book (it was chosen by my book group), I had high expectations. After all, the author earned an MFA from Iowa, and her previous books were nominated for multiple awards. A few pages in, I knew it would be a book that under different circumstances I would have just stopped reading. The trend in creative writing is to write "character-driven" rather than "plot-driven" novels. That only works if the characters are interesting. The main characters were totally ...more
(Lonestarlibrarian) Keddy Ann Outlaw
Oh, what tangled webs we weave when we fall in love, especially young women in their twenties..... When Cressida Hartley moves to her parent's cabin in the high Sierras to finish writing her PHD dissertation, she takes up with first one older divorced man who turns out to be a serial Romeo and then even more disastrously, with a married carpenter, a moody man named Quinn. I am not going to detail much more of the plot than that, except to say that Cress is totally swept away. Their relationship ...more
Robert Blumenthal
It appears that Michelle Huneven is friends with Mona Simpson. They mentioned each other in their latest novels in the Acknowledgements section. This book could have been written by Mona Simpson, with its vivid characterization and how the reader comes to really care about the protagonist, despite her deep and frustrating flaws. I am sure some people will find this book and chore, getting exasperated with the lead character as she makes one bad decision after another. But for me, the stark Raymo ...more
Robert Olsen
Off Course is a coming-of-age novel, set in the California country, about obsessive love. The narrator, an affectless doctoral candidate in her late 20s, has detached – from her economics dissertation, from her family, from her belief in value itself – and accordingly drifts through the lives of a wonderfully observed set of working-class characters away from main action of Reagan’s America. It is also a “ladies’ book,” in the sense that Pride and Prejudice is a “ladies’ book.” Problems of marri ...more
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Book Keeping: Off Course by Michelle Huneven 1 11 Mar 04, 2014 12:45PM  
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I am the author of four novels.

I was born in Altadena, California just a mile from where I live now. I college-hopped (Scripps, Grinnell, EWU) and landed at the Iowa Writers Workshop where I received my MFA.

My first two books, Round Rock (Knopf 1997) and Jamesland (Knopf 2003), were both New York Times notable books and also finalists for the LA Times Book Award. My third novel, Blame, (Sarah Cri
More about Michelle Huneven...

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