At the start of the fifth novel by PEN/Faulkner Award-winner Kate Christensen, successful New York therapist Josie finds herself flirting with a man who is significantly younger—and decidedly not her husband. She drinks wine, throws her head back in hysterics and, as she watches herself deftly play out the calculations of seduction, becomes increasingly convinced that something in her life must change: she must leave her passionless marriage despite fears that it will traumatize her family.
In a surprisingly comic turn of events, however, Josie’s decision barely fazes her academic husband and adopted daughter Wendy, a resentful and perpetually bored preteen who Christensen crafts with wickedly clever punch. After all, as Wendy puts it: “Parents split up. It happens to everyone.”
Josie is prepared to move out of her apartment and rebuild her life when she calls her college friend Raquel, a Los Angeles rock star who is being vilified by the press for stealing a much younger man away from his pregnant girlfriend. Raquel suggests they sneak away to Mexico City to regroup, and Josie, despite her best efforts at responsibility, can’t see a reason not to. Once there, the pair embarks on a journey of renewed friendship and sexual awakening, as well as substance abuse, paparazzi avoidance and other forms of “trouble” few 40-year-old women encounter. Josie takes up with a local artist and Raquel balances the line between self-discovery and self-destruction.
Trouble is a smart and sexy look at the way libido plays into the female midlife crisis, and many of Christensen’s observations in the novel’s first half sparkle with acerbic wit. She loses steam, however, as the women traipse through Mexico City, and readers may find themselves wishing Josie had stayed in Manhattan to hash it out with her cruelly bemused husband. Still, it’s refreshing to read about middle-aged women who are given not only agency, but also vivacity and desire.
Jillian Quint is an Assistant Editor at the Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.