Kate Christensen is no slouch when it comes to creating impressive and memorable male characters. In her PEN/Faulkner Award-winning novel The Great Man, readers were introduced to the story of Oscar Feldman, a fictional 20th-century New York figurative painter, told by the voices of the women influencing his life. Now comes The Astral, another important novel in which Christensen perfectly embodies the voice of a male poet in crisis, Harry Quirk.
In Brooklyn, New York (a city where one can find more writers per capita than, perhaps, any other city), Harry—a middle-aged poet whose career is slowly coming to a standstill—finds himself kicked out of the house by his wife, Luz. Convinced that Harry is having an affair with his childhood best friend (which he is not), Luz refuses to let Harry move back to their apartment located in The Astral, a sprawling building that dominates a large block in the neighborhood of Greenpoint. Forced to live in an apartment directly beneath his previous home with Luz, Harry struggles with marital problems, career woes and, most interestingly, immense difficulties with his devout son Hector, who has somehow become the leader of a cult.
While Harry and his freegan, dumpster-diving daughter Karina plot to convince Hector—recently dubbed Bard—that he is not his Christian cult’s newest messiah, Harry spends the rest of his time attempting to remember and rewrite his last batch of poems that Luz had destroyed before she threw him out. Plagued by a failing marriage and a son floundering among the religious ideals of others, Harry struggles to remain connected with his family before the ties are completely severed and he finds himself alone for good.
Christensen is a master at nailing Harry’s antagonizing voice, and her protagonist does not disappoint. Readers will be sucked into extremely realistic familial dramas while Christensen perfectly captures her Brooklyn backdrop—from dive bars to hipsters drinking overpriced coffee in trendy cafes. With acute perception and witty humor, this bittersweet novel moves along at a tremendous pace, entertaining until its climactic final scene.