4/5 Doubleday Harry Quirk’s wife, Luz, is haunting him – and she’s not even dead. Ever since she kicked Harry out of their apartment, the ageing, moderately successful poet can’t get her off his mind. If she’d only accept that he isn’t having an affair with his friend Marion; if only she’d believe that the poem cycle she found on his laptop – and subsequently destroyed – wasn’t about anyone specific, but rather an erotic feminine ideal; if only she’d reconsider her decision and take him back.
Kate Christensen’s The Astral is an intimate, intriguing tale: It plants itself in a location, entrenches itself with its narrator and stays put. It touches on infidelity and its fallout, but moves deeper into loss and reconciliation. Christensen knows her landscapes – both Quirk’s emotional interior and his industrial neighbourhood – and she renders them with a casual grace and humour, rich in detail, both observed and imagined.
The Astral successfully dramatises a moment that’s not inherently dramatic. As Harry faces his brave new world, it’s soothing to listen to him bemoan his fate, assault his foes, wax poetic and otherwise try to make sense of his life. The peripheral characters don’t possess the protagonist’s level of depth; in the end, Luz comes across as a manipulative harpy. But after all, she’s only an apparition in the hero’s quixotic quest to return to something he’d be better off just letting go.