“The Astral” is largely a rumination on marriage, wise enough to inform anyone who’s been at it a while but maybe too dark for kids just starting off. As Harry rides his bicycle around Brooklyn — wonderfully drawn here — he reflects on what went wrong in his home. He did have an affair 12 years ago, and ever since he’s had “a scarlet P on [his] forehead — for Philanderer, alas, not Pimpernel.” But he always assumed their shared experience was enough to keep Luz — “my fellow grizzled veteran of the same wars — and him together till the end. “Through the decades, things had gotten dirty between us,” he admits, “corrupted by familiarity, the pain we caused each other on purpose and by accident, our blind spots, all the things we couldn’t say or see. By now, I felt so many complicated, ancient, powerful things for and about Luz, a mishmash of memories and associations and anger and irritation and physical knowledge and attachment and blind habit and nostalgia and dependency and intertwined roots, I wasn’t sure it could all be lumped together as love or any other one word.”
Swinging between ribald confession and thoughtful reflection with a hair shirt grafted to his torso, Harry is an endlessly engaging coroner of his relationship with Luz, that “one-woman fascistic government,” but the novel rounds out its exploration of marriage with several other curious couplings. He and his best female friend wonder why they never had that affair that Harry’s wife assumes they’ve been having. His male friends seem locked in cold, competitive marriages, and his own adult children aren’t at all interested in the matrimonial model their parents pursued: His daughter, a lesbian freegan, seems too serious for romance, while his wastrel son is caught up in a religious cult that uses love as a con.