Related News

Home » Feature » Art and Culture

Real trouble with finale

WRITERS love trouble. The mess of life is their sustenance. Conflict, discord, snags and hitches are the tools of suspense, hooking and then dragging readers through the currents and silt of narratives. Good for Kate Christensen who has given her characters enough trouble to fill a book.

"Trouble" is a terse and tough little novel about two friends in their 40s: Josie, a Manhattan therapist resolved to end her lackluster marriage, and Raquel, a Los Angeles rock star and former heroin addict whose fame is rapidly dwindling.

We first see Josie at a party in a friend's Upper West Side apartment, flirting with a man she has just met. Christensen doesn't bother with the formalities of introductions, explanations or back stories; instead, she plops us in the center of action. This authorial abandonment is thrilling, the scene inclusive, charged and propulsive.

While Josie is flirting, she sees her reflection in a mirror and suddenly realizes that her marriage is over. "My heart stopped beating. I almost heard it squeak as it constricted with fear, and then it resumed its steady rhythm and life went on, as it usually does."

Except that for Josie it doesn't, not as usual. Because after this momentous glance at herself, Josie drastically changes the rhythm of her life - not only by acknowledging the end of her marriage, but by stopping at a bar on her way home and taking a stranger for a brief, steamy encounter.

Josie then continues home, where she tells her husband and 13-year-old daughter that she wants a separation and will be moving out. Meanwhile, she learns that her famous friend, Raquel - "as tiny and fragile, but also as tough, as a wicker basket" - is involved in a scandal with an actor half her age and is being maligned by a feisty blogger.

Raquel persuades Josie to flee with her to Mexico City where they can rediscover themselves and their passions. "We'll drink tequila and go dancing and breathe pollution," Raquel says. "And eat chorizo tacos ... We'll be Thelmita and Luisa!"

There aren't any obstacles in "Trouble." I suppose the main line of suspense is whether Josie will form a relationship. Blink and you'll miss Raquel's downward spiral. Josie certainly does. Yet despite some cursory devastation, things more or less work out in the end.

Readers love trouble, too, and "Trouble" doesn't have enough of it. The best part of this novel comes early on, when Josie is treating various patients while ruminating over her own problems. This is before she talks with her husband and before she knows what she's going to do. The writing at this point is sharp, clear and often hilarious.

Christensen sweeps through a cast of perfectly delineated neurotic patients in treatment with their distracted, hung-over and anxious therapist. Josie's adventure with Raquel lacks these interactions with characters who bring out the conflicted protagonist in ways no exotic city ever could.

Over the border in Mexico, the tension of the novel is forsaken, and it becomes little more than a travelogue, reducing particular lives to anonymous dots. For a writer, that's real trouble.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend