Tess Malone's Reviews > The Astral

The Astral by Kate Christensen
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Jun 10, 11

Read from June 05 to 09, 2011

I was sent a reviewer's copy of the novel recently and because I had just read an intriguing article in the June issue of ELLE by Christensen about the draw of the male narrator to her, I immediately started reading. I can understand why Christensen has taken advantage of a male voice for this novel. When we meet Harry Quirk he has just be thrown out of his apartment (housed in the famous Astral) and decades long marriage to Luz after she mistakenly believes the poems he's been writing are about an affair with his best friend, Marion. Harry is more in denial than embittered and as we watch him struggle to comprehend his marriage is really over we get some fascinating insights on the male psyche. Christensen pulls these off and Harry feels like a real man and not some female author projecting her relationship to men on to this character. He is contradictory, circuitous in his thinking, and often infuriating. However he is much more interesting to the reader than the stereotypical woman scorned we often find in novels about divorce. Not to say that the women in the novel aren't multi-dimensional and interesting because with the exception of Luz (whose side we only hear in the final somewhat anticlimactic ten pages of the novel) they are witty, strong, and spirited and help to demonstrate that Harry's respect for powerful women means that he does not respect himself and cannot find his bearings amongst them. The infamous Marion is particularly well sketched- complex, full of quirks and history with Harry. As the alleged mistress, she is awarded more sympathy than Luz and was always my favorite character to read.

However, if this isn't already apparent, the novel suffers from almost no plot. We watch Harry treading water with the shore in sight, but no obvious way for him to get there. The process of letting go and discovering who you are is difficult and slow going, but the writing was occasionally turgid as a consequence of this. Christensen tries to add conflict with Harry's two offbeat children, so fringe that they were clearly contrived. There's Karina the freegan lesbian daughter (yes, really) and Hector who is about to become the leader of a religious cult so haphazardly thrown in that it felt like a separate novel whenever a chapter was devoted to his story.

Although Harry is a fully reazlied and well-worded narrator, the book is too slow to be truly great.
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