If you're not familiar with Kate Christensen's work, start with The Great Man. That novel—which won the PEN/Faulkner in 2008—focuses on the life of a recently deceased painter, as two competing biographers vie to understand the painter's life by interviewing the women closest to him. The protagonists spend their novel entertainingly exorcising their rancor toward one another and the dead painter, and Christensen anchors the clever wordplay in real emotional depth. Her other novels, all worthwhile, include the bilious The Epicure's Lament, which gave full voice to Christensen's fearsome observational wit.
But the insult comedy of her previous books is hardly deployed in her newest, The Astral. The stakes are too high for witty banter: Harry Quirk's life is falling apart, and he just wants to understand why.
Harry is a poet who has just been kicked out of his home. His wife, Luz, is convinced that Harry is having an affair with his oldest friend, Marion. Her evidence? A cycle of poems Harry is working on, which suggestively describe other women. Warm correspondence between Marion and Harry. Luz's own observations, over the years, of their unusually strong bond.
The catch, though, is that Harry is an innocent man—he's been kicked out of his home for no greater sin than having a close female friend. Luz's utter refusal to listen to reason is one of The Astral's central conflicts; by the end of the novel, the question has elegantly morphed from why Luz won't take Harry back to whether or not he wants her to.
Christensen is fearless in writing from a first-person male perspective, and she uses this lens to describe female craziness of a very specific sort: obsessive jealousy and possessiveness, the kind you can't argue with, the kind that reads your emails and hacks your Facebook account.
I can't speak to how well Christensen inhabits a male narrator, being a female narrator myself, but Harry's essential humanity is written on every page—he's confused, angry, and utterly baffled by the actions of his batshit wife. In a way, The Astral is a sustained exclamation of the phrase, "Bitches, man"—and if I'm going to read that novel, I want to read it from a writer as perceptive as Christensen.