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The Astral
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The Astral
A Novel
Creators: Kate Christensen
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Imprint: Doubleday
Pub. date: 06/14/2011
Lib. SRP: 47.85 USD
Ret. SRP: 15.95 USD
Format: Adobe EPUB eBook
ISBN: 9780385530927
PublisherCatalogNumber: 213232
DRM Level: Adobe Content Server 4
Min. Version: Adobe Digital Editions
File size: 2359 KB
Languages:
   English
Subjects:
   Fiction, Literature
Keywords:
   21st century, adoption, adultery, aging, american fiction, american literature, book club, book club recommendations, classic literature, coming of age, contemporary, contemporary fiction, death, divorce, drama, family, family life, family relationships, friendship, grief, hollywood, humor, immigrants, immigration, infidelity, literary, literary fiction, literature, love story, manhattan, marriage, marriage books, modern, realistic fiction, relationship books, relationships, romance, romance books, satire, sisters, women, writing
  null
Short Description:
   

From the PEN/Faulkner Award--winning author of The Great Man, a scintillating novel of love, loss, and literary rivalry set in rapidly changing Brooklyn.

The Astral is a huge rose-colored old pile of an apart­ment building in the gentrifying neighborhood of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. For decades it was the happy home (or so he thought) of the poet Harry Quirk and his wife, Luz, a nurse, and of their two children: Karina, now a fer­vent freegan, and Hector, now in the clutches of a cultish Christian community. But Luz has found (and destroyed) some poems of Harry's that ignite her long-simmering sus­picions of infidelity, and he's been summarily kicked out. He now has to reckon with the consequence of his literary, marital, financial, and parental failures (and perhaps oth­ers) and find his way forward--and back into Luz's good graces.

Harry Quirk is, in short, a loser, living small and low in the water. But touched by Kate Christensen's...

Full Description:
   

From the PEN/Faulkner Award--winning author of The Great Man, a scintillating novel of love, loss, and literary rivalry set in rapidly changing Brooklyn.

The Astral is a huge rose-colored old pile of an apart­ment building in the gentrifying neighborhood of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. For decades it was the happy home (or so he thought) of the poet Harry Quirk and his wife, Luz, a nurse, and of their two children: Karina, now a fer­vent freegan, and Hector, now in the clutches of a cultish Christian community. But Luz has found (and destroyed) some poems of Harry's that ignite her long-simmering sus­picions of infidelity, and he's been summarily kicked out. He now has to reckon with the consequence of his literary, marital, financial, and parental failures (and perhaps oth­ers) and find his way forward--and back into Luz's good graces.

Harry Quirk is, in short, a loser, living small and low in the water. But touched by Kate Christensen's novelistic grace and acute perception, his floundering attempts to reach higher ground and forge a new life for himself become funny, bittersweet, and terrifically moving. She knows what secrets lurk in the hearts of men--and she turns them into literary art of the highest order.

BONUS: This edition includes an excerpt from Kate Christensen's Blue Plate Special.

Excerpts:
  

Chapter One

      Chapter One

Toxic water streamed with gold like the belly of a turning fish: sunset over Newtown Creek. Tattered pinkish-black clouds blew overhead in the March wind. The water below me rippled with tendons and cowlicks. Just across the brief waterway were the low mute banks of Hunters Point, church spire, low-slung old warehouses. An empty barge made its way down the creek toward the East River and the long glittering skyscrapery isle. I stood behind the chain-link fence the city had slapped up to keep the likes of me from jumping in.

I was hungry and in need of a bath and a drink. At my back thronged the dark ghosts of Greenpoint, feeding silently off the underwater lake of spilled oil that lay under it all, the polyfluorocarbons from the industrial warehouses. I had named this place the End of the World years ago, when it was an even more polluted, hopeless wasteland, but it still fit.

As I stood staring out through the webbing of fence, my mind cast itself through the rivulets of my own lost verse. I netted little flashes of lines and phrases I'd been reworking, "Held spellbound, your mollusk voice / Quietly swathing my cochlea / In tentacles of damask cloth" and "Slow-weathered verdigris of our once bronzed thighs," but they sounded dead to me now. All I could really hear was Luz, Luz, Luz like the feeble pulsing signals of a dying heart. Heartache was a physical thing, a pain in my chest, a sort of recoiling tension with an ache like a bruise. There was a withheld quality to my breathing lately, as if I had been sucker punched and was waiting to get my wind back, but no wind came. I could remember whole published poems, but if these new, destroyed verses still existed in my brain, they fled from the webbing of my memory like darting schools of tiny fish, scooching away the instant before capture.

I turned away from this butt end of waterfront warehouses and walked back the way I'd come, along Manhattan Avenue, past the flophouse where I lived now, bare mattresses piled in the front window. I passed junk shops full of old radios, used dolls, and cowboy shirts, Goldsholle and Garfinkel Inc., Mexican bodegas, liquor stores, the abandoned hulk of JK Restaurant Supply with its twisted metal grate, small markets with root vegetables in boxes along the sidewalk, butchers' shops festooned with loops of kielbasy. I went through the intersection at Greenpoint Avenue, the dingy McDonald's, defeated Starbucks, opposing Arab newsstands, and on to the old Associated Supermarket with its sexy Polish girls pouting at nothing as they rang up your groceries. The outdoor clock at the Smolenski Funeral Home was permanently stopped at 6:30, both hands pointing straight down to hell.

I hung a right off Manhattan Avenue and aimed myself toward the glowing neon sign in the window of Marlene's, one of the last local old-man bars. Was I an old man yet, at fifty-seven? I'd been going there for years. The place had rusty tin ceilings, original wainscoting, two-dollar drafts in small, icy mugs, and moose antlers. The one concession to the new millennium was a flat-screen the size of a small car.

"Hello there, Harry," said George as I came in. The most deadpan voice I have ever heard. If he has any feelings that cause him to lie awake wracked with turmoil in the small hours of the morning, he's not telling. What he'll do is pour you a grudging whiskey finger for three bucks. Never a double; that's not the way they do things at Marlene's.

George has a pocked face the color of gray chalk, a thin colorless wavelet of hair pasted to his scalp, and small protruding eyes. He has a day job at the Acme Smoked Fish warehouse on Gem Street, but he...
Reviews:
  O Magazine
     
"A tart, compassionate story of marriage gone wrong."
  Publisher's Weekly
     

Starred review from April 11, 2011
Like the rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn of its setting, Christensen's unremittingly wonderful latest (after Trouble) is populated by an odd but captivating mix of characters. At the center is Harry Quirk, a middle-aged poet whose comfortable life is upended one winter day when his wife, Luz, convinced he's having an affair, destroys his notebooks, throws his laptop from the window, and kicks him out. Things, Harry has to admit, are not going well: their idealistic Dumpster-diving daughter, Karina, is lonely and lovelorn, and their son, Hector, is in the grip of a messianic cult. Taking in a much-changed Greenpoint, Brooklyn, while working at a lumberyard and hoping to recover his poetic spark, Harry must come to terms with the demands of starting anew at 57. Astute and unsentimental, at once romantic and wholly rational, Harry is an everyman adrift in a changing world, and as he surveys his failings, Christensen takes a singular, genuine story and blows it up into a smart inquiry into the nature of love and the commitments we make, the promises we do and do not honor, and the people we become as we negotiate the treacherous parameters of marriage and friendship and parenthood.

  Kirkus
     

Starred review from May 15, 2011

Christensen (Trouble, 2009, etc.) knows her way around aging characters. Having won the PEN/Faulkner Award for her lively septuagenarians in The Great Man (2007), she now creates a charmingly ribald bohemian poet flailing about in late middle age.

The title refers to the apartment building where Harry Quirk and his wife Luz, a devoutly Catholic Mexican nurse, have lived in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, for all of their 30-year marriage. Now Luz has kicked Harry out and burnt his latest manuscript of poetry—eschewing popular trends, he writes in rhyme and meter—because she thinks his love poems are proof that he's been carrying on an affair with his friend Marion. Righteously claiming the poems are written to an imaginary woman, he fights hard to convince Luz of his fidelity and win her back. Meanwhile, he hangs out in his Greenpoint neighborhood, finds work at a Hasidic lumberyard where he's the only non-Jew, drinks at his local bars, visits Marion and discusses why they have never been and never will be lovers and moves from living space to living space until he ends up staying with his daughter Karina, a 25-year-old vegan dumpster-diving activist. He and Karina make visits to Karina's older brother Hector, always Luz's favorite, who has abandoned her Catholicism and joined a Christian cult led by a sexy charlatan who plans to marry Hector. While Harry wanders through his days, drinking, conversing, picking fights, trying to talk to Luz, who says she wants a divorce and won't see him, his Brooklyn world of aging bohemians comes vividly to life. There's not a lot of active plot here, but each minor character is a gem. As for Harry, by the time he faces the truth about his marriage and finds a measure of hard-earned happiness, or at least self-awareness, he has won the reader's heart. He's a larger-than-life, endearing fool.

A masterpiece of comedy and angst. Think Gulley Jimson of Joyce Cary's The Horses Mouth transported from 1930s London to present-day Brooklyn.

(COPYRIGHT (2011) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  People
     
"Harry Quirk...makes an unexpectedly irresistible hero in this delicious social satire."
  Ron Charles, The Washington Post
     
"Engaging...wonderfully drawn. It's worth noting that Christensen has somehow -- again -- created a captivatingly believable male narrator, although she can't see 60 on the horizon, has not been married to a tempestuous Mexican woman for 30 years or published largely ignored poetry in academic journals. (Her previous novel, The Great Man, won the PEN/Faulkner Award.) And yet here she is doing what talented novelists do: creating a voice so rich with the peculiar timbre of lived experience that you feel as though she's introduced you to a witty, deeply frustrated (and frustrating) new friend."
  Library Journal
     

January 1, 2011

The Astral, a big, rose-hued apartment building in Brooklyn, NY, has long been home to poet Harry Quirk and his family. But Harry's wife, Luz, has discovered poems that seem to confirm her suspicions of infidelity, and she's tossed him out. Harry, sensing that he's failed as a poet, husband, and father (son Hector is trapped in a crazy Christian cult), decides to straighten out. This latest from Christensen arrives with some promise, as her recent The Great Man won a PEN Faulkner Award. This could be a real charmer; watch.

Copyright 2011 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  Andrew Ervin, the Miami Herald
     
"Christensen...amps up the tension, suspense, and pathos until it feels like the book could ignite in your hands. She's a spectacular author who's only beginning to get the attention she so richly deserves, such as the 2008 PEN/Faulkner for The Great Man. Her style is unique in that her work is more based on fascinating and real--maybe too real--characters rather than upon on the same three or four basic plots we've seen a million times. And Harry Quirk is one of her greatest creations. (I will admit that I'm also quite partial to Hugo, the creepy hero of The Epicure's Lament.) Christensen is amazing at capturing male voices and desires, particularly the ones that don't often get aired outside Philip Roth novels.
I can't wait to see how Christensen's work develops over the coming decades. She has the makings of a major American author. Her storytelling derives organically from a firm grasp of characterization and how people work, flaws and all. The...
Creator Marketing:
  Kate Christensen     
     

KATE CHRISTENSEN is the author of five previous novels, most recently Trouble. The Great Man won the 2008 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. She has written reviews and essays for numerous publica­tions, most recently the New York Times Book Review, Bookforum, Tin House, Elle, and Open City. She lives in New York City.

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