Left Out to Rot
Kate Christensen analyzes a poet in crisis
by Kate Christensen
$25.95 List Price
Artists can be fascinating creatures: stubborn, arrogant, passionate, yet so fragile. How do we accommodate or even tolerate these strange birds, so obsessive and tenacious when it comes to their craft, so distracted and self-involved even when they’re not working, so fixated, no matter how successful they are, on the question of their own brilliance (or lack thereof)? And how do artists navigate a world that’s largely indifferent (if not hostile) to their species?
Harry, the poet narrator of Kate Christensen’s latest novel, The Astral, embodies the finest qualities and most lamentable flaws of an artist, or at least a certain type of artist: He is thoughtful yet blind to himself, original yet horribly familiar, pompous yet plagued by self-doubt, charming yet self-indulgent. We find Harry in the throes of a major life crisis, one that leaves him reeling, drinking too much, and turning to anyone who’ll listen for advice he doesn’t seem remotely interested in (or capable of) taking. Harry’s wife, Luz, has just discovered his latest work, a series of sonnets about going to bed with a beautiful woman. Suspecting that Harry must be having an affair with his longtime friend Marion, Luz throws Harry’s laptop out of the top-floor window of the Astral, their apartment building in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. With his work destroyed and his wife, who’s supported him for years, intent on a divorce, Harry finds himself utterly lost and distraught. He loves Luz and wants his old life back, but he can’t figure out how to convince her he’s not having an affair, because she “was