In the gentrifying neighborhood of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, rests a
huge rose-colored apartment building called The Astral. For decades
it was the happy home of the poet Harry Quirk, his wife, Luz, and
their two children: Karina, now a fervent freegan, and Hector, now
in the clutches of a cultish Christian community. But when Luz
finds poems that ignite her long-simmering suspicions of
infidelity, Harry is summarily kicked out, leaving him to reckon
with the consequence of his literary, marital, and parental
failures. With tremendous grace and acute perception, Kate
Christensen details Harry's floundering attempts to find his way
back into Luz's arms-and back to his better self-in a novel that is
funny, bittersweet, and terrifically moving.
is the author of five
previous novels, most recently Trouble
. The Great
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
, Tin House
, and Open
. She lives in New York City.
1. Harry Quirk's obsession with his imploding marriage forms a
central arc in The Astral. Do you trust his
narrative of the marriage and its dissolution? How does your
opinion of him evolve as you read the novel?
2. Luz is convinced that Harry is sleeping with Marion.
Although her accusations of sexual intimacy are unfounded, Harry
and Marion are very close friends. Do you think that it is
possible to commit emotional infidelity, and if so, is Harry guilty
of it? How would you define an "emotional affair"?
3. In Chapter Fourteen, Harry visits his wife's therapist,
Helen. What do you make of Harry's animosity towards
her? Why do you think the author included this
4. Harry's work-in-progress, "an epic poem of loss and
displacement," is titled The Astral. How does this
echo the symbolic role of The Astral apartment building in the
5. During the course of the novel, Harry and Karina pay several
visits to Hector at the Sag Harbor compound. How do these
experiences compare, and what do they contribute to our
understanding of Hector and his situation? Do you think
Hector is a true believer of the Children of Hashem cult, or is he
an opportunist like his older consort Christa?
6. The Astral portrays a multi-racial, multi-ethnic,
rapidly changing Brooklyn of artists, artisans, immigrants, and
long-settled locals. Discuss the tensions inherent in such a
quilt of social types. How does the author portray the
interactions between immigration and gentrification?
7. Kate Christensen once wrote an influential essay titled
"Loser Lit" in praise of such books as Lucky Jim, A
Confederacy of Dunces, Jernigan and Wonder
Boys, whose books center on self-defeating characters whose
often comic misadventures as they slide to the bottom have garnered
these novels fervent cult followings. To what extent do you think
Harry Quirk qualifies as a Loser Lit antihero?