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FICTION

Book Review: 'Trouble' by Kate Christensen

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By Lisa Zeidner
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, June 17, 2009

TROUBLE

By Kate Christensen

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Doubleday. 311 pp. $26

With "The Great Man," her PEN/Faulkner Award-winning fourth novel, Kate Christensen established herself as a wise, wry voice on the byzantine ways that women's ambitions and erotic lives conflict. Sharp-tongued and self-possessed, her middle-aged women often find themselves torn between success and sex. Unsurprisingly, they'd prefer to have both.

Josie, the heroine of Christensen's new novel, "Trouble," is an accomplished New York psychotherapist with a brilliant professor-husband and an adopted Chinese daughter. At the moment Josie realizes she wants to leave her companionable marriage, her best friend from college, fading rock star Raquel, finds herself vilified in the tabloids for her affair with a younger man. Both Josie and Raquel need an escape hatch. Their road trip takes them to Mexico for a Christmas holiday, where they drink tequila, see the sights, buy some souvenirs, reconnect with each other and some attractive men, and attempt to confront their demons.

As in "The Great Man," which re-created an entire imaginary New York art scene, Christensen excels at positioning her invented characters in the recognizable world of the actually famous. She has postmodern fun with Raquel's tortured self-doubts about her music and abashed passion for her HBO series boy-toy -- "He's an actor," Raquel confesses. "They're like poodles, but stupid." The tensions among Josie, Raquel and a third chum from college, the self-righteous and independently wealthy Indrani, will delight any reader familiar with the infighting among female friends.

But Josie, who narrates the novel, isn't quite as fascinating or complex as Christensen's past heroines. And though the novel is called "Trouble," Josie runs into irritatingly little of it. Her husband proves perfectly cordial about their split; she steps off the plane right into the arms of a gorgeous, good-natured, accomplished, romance-novel-worthy man. "I was flummoxed by how much I liked him," she muses, "how easy it always was to fall back into our attraction and mutual rapport. I felt as if we were in cosmic alignment." An experienced therapist could afford to be at least a little more analytical than Josie is about her own troubled heart.

Zeidner's most recent novel is "Layover." She directs the MFA program in creative writing at Rutgers University.


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