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Off Course

3.36  ·  Rating details ·  920 Ratings  ·  180 Reviews
A bear climbs onto a cabin's deck, presses his nose to the sliding door. Inside, a young woman stands to face him. She comes closer, and closer yet, until only the glass stands between them . . .

The year is 1981, Reagan is in the White House, and the country is stalled in a recession. Cressida Hartley, a gifted Ph.D. student in economics, moves into her parents' shabby A-f
Hardcover, 287 pages
Published April 1st 2014 by Sarah Crichton Books
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Jul 25, 2015 rated it it was ok
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 rated it it was amazing
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 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
May 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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)
Apr 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Melissa Lee-Tammeus
Jul 29, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Apr 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 17, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: opted-out, 2014-reads
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
Robert Blumenthal
Jul 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 24, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Mar 18, 2014 rated it did not like it
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
May 04, 2014 rated it liked it
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
May 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
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.
Rachel Elizabeth
The story arc of Off Course is one that I found painfully familiar, and I suspect many other women will find familiar as well: a woman (Cress) on the verge of achieving some degree of personal success in her late twenties experiences some apathy, allows herself to be superficially distracted by a man (Jakey) who is openly using her. Then while licking her wounds, falls into a pit of years of lost time consumed by obsession with another man (Quinn) who throws her scraps of love to keep her invest ...more
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 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Jeff V.
Jun 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
“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
Oct 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 rated it did not like it
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
Jul 29, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Mar 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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,
Andy Miller
Feb 13, 2015 rated it liked it
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
Jul 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Been there
We've all been in that paralyzing dead end relationship, even those of us who seemingly have it all
Cressida's battle was relatable, and you could not help but feel agony for her. Like that friend who's able to see and solve everyone's pain, but completely blindside in her own experience
Dec 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Conflicted about this one. Cozy and beautiful -I love the landscapes especially - but Cress never quite bloomed on the page enough for me.
Melanie Page
May 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
“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
Jess E. Jelsma
Jan 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Off Course by Michelle Huneven originally interested me because the plot seemed to share some similarities with the novel I'm currently writing. Cressida, a PhD candidate, moves to her parents' remote cabin in the Sierras in order to have the time and space to finish her dissertation. Once there, she finds herself distracted by two different romantic affairs: one with the owner of a local lodge and the other with Quinn Morrow, a married contractor. Far from finishing her dissertation, Cressida b ...more
Aug 28, 2017 rated it liked it
I feel rather corny saying I wish it had a different ending, but there it is, I do. I found myself being hypercritical of the main character and with further reflection realized some of what I disliked about her, I dislike in myself. She is a completely human human with all the things about herself that makes her and us, real. I loved the bear connection and her habit of sniffing trees. She'd be a great buddy.
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Book Keeping: Off Course by Michelle Huneven 1 12 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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