A Summer Reading Rec

Towards the end of May, we went to New York for a mere 48 hours (that was the plan at least). It was a baby-less trip, so didn’t want to push our luck with grandparents, though they swear they would keep him endlessly. We wanted to make the most of our travel time, so—silver lining to a non-direct flight—it seemed like airport time would at least be great reading time.

I finished The Astral, by the brilliant Kate Christensen, on the plane. More on that in a second. Then I started The Brothers Karamazov, which is perhaps not the best airplane book of all time. I made minimal progress late at night in the hotel room. Then, on our way back to Birmingham, we got stuck at LaGuardia overnight—all flights cancelled—and slept in the airport. Sort of slept. Lounged and tossed and twitched in a variety of positions. And, well, while in the middle of a food court at 3 a.m., Dostoyevsky is perhaps not the best option.Though I was in a mood to contemplate human suffering.

My husband is a god for surprising me with David Sedaris’ Let’s Discuss Diabetes With Owls at 5 a.m. At times Sedaris is better for the soul than the Russians.

Anyway, back to Kate Christensen, who also wrote The Great Man and The Epicure’s Lament. (I loved them both.) The Astral centers around the break-up of a decades-long marriage, a break-up which is complicated by the fact that Harry Quirk’s wife threw him out over an affair that he never actually had. And no matter how he denies it, she refuses to believe him. It’s an outrageous scenario in some ways, but it quickly expands into beautiful, moving look at how loves endures and how it changes, how we know each other deeply and at the same time we remain utter mysteries, and how the same relationship—the same conversation, the same moment, even—can be refracted so differently depending on whose eyes you’re looking through.

The prose is a joy, both hilarious and make-you-wince insightful. I always underline like crazy when I’m reading Christensen. In this novel I’ve highlighted like lines like, “Long-term marriages apparently appear as permanent to others as geographic formations; when one dissolves, its as if Fuji or Fiji had disappeared overnight.” And the one about a wife who “would no sooner have slept with a woman than she would have stabbed and boiled and eaten one.”

Side note: I met Kate and author Suzanne Finnamore when The Well and the Mine won an award from Barnes & Noble. They made up two-thirds of the judging panel for the award. Suzanne gave me a crazy-wild-hilarious introduction, and I chatted a little with both of them after the awards ceremony. It is hard to convey the giddiness and sheer unbelievability of that day.  I walked into the awards ceremony delighted that on the B&N rankings of books, my novel had the first time dipped below the 1,000-mark in terms of its sales.  (Like 767th in fiction.) Then by the time we got back to the hotel, its rank was 6th. (And, damn it, I never did beat Steve Harvey’s How To Act Like A Woman and Think Like A Man. Or vice versa. Never quite got that title.)

But here is where I’m headed: There’s a lot of talk in real life and print life about how women undercut each other professionally, about how we are competitive or snarky. I’ve never felt that in the world of writing, and these two women in particular were everything I would ever hope to be to other writers. Kate wrote a lovely review of Come in and Cover Me in Elle, and both women were incredibly complimentary and encouraging that day—nearly five years ago—and have been ever since.  Anyway, here’s my review of The Astral: The book is excellent, and the woman behind the book is even more excellent. Read her stuff.

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