Christensen, Kate 1962-
Christensen, Kate 1962-
Born 1962; married. Education: Graduate of Reed College and Iowa Writer's Workshop.
Novelist. Worked variously as an editorial assistant, waitress, temp, secretary, phone sex "artiste," and adult education teacher.
In the Drink, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1999.
Jeremy Thrane, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2001.
The Epicure's Lament, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2004.
The Great Man, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2007.
Kate Christensen as an American novelist whose writing is, according to Vince Passaro writing in O, the Oprah Magazine, "clear-eyed, muscular, bitingly funny, and supremely caustic." Passaro also observed: "If writers were still considered dangerous, Kate Christensen would likely be in jail." Christensen's first novel, In the Drink, was published in 1999. Her protagonist, Claudia Steiner, is a thirty-something, educated woman trying to find her way through life and work on New York City's Upper East Side. In what Vanessa Grigoriadis in the New York Times Book Review dubbed a "slacker odyssey" with a "breezy and confident" style, and what Catherine Sias of Booklist called "enjoyable [and] fast-paced," Claudia blunders her way through spending sprees, bouts of drinking, casual sexual encounters, and a series of meaningless jobs that include working as a ghost writer for an aging writer. Tim Hall, writing for the arts section of Billburg. com, called Claudia's character "refreshingly real" and one who "jumps off the page." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly agreed, noting that In the Drink is "refreshingly unsentimental." Fortunately, Claudia eventually finds meaning in "compassion and connection," said Christensen in an online interview for Bold Type.
In her Bold Type interview, Christensen acknowledged the autobiographical basis of her story. Claudia's experiences, she explained, mirrored some of her own "relatively modest achievements" on the wild side of single living in New York. The novel, Christensen said, could not have taken place anywhere else: "Claudia's voice is a New York voice, the people she knows are quintessential New Yorkers."
The author disputes frequent comparisons by reviewers between her writing and that of Helen Fielding, author of Bridget Jones's Diary. In her Billburg.com interview, Christensen claimed to have been influenced more by "an august tradition of hard-drinking, self-destructive anti-heroes" such as those found in the works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Joyce Cary, and David Gates. She referred to the genre espoused by such writers as "Loser Lit," adding to the classification such works as The Ginger Man, Miss Lonelyhearts, and A Fine Madness. Christensen explained to Hall that characters in "Loser Lit" tend to "shoot themselves in the foot and screw up their lives." Asked whether she agreed with critics who have identified a new genre called "chick lit," the author asserted that there is actually "a new wave of male AND female writers writing about being single, urban, ambitious but aimless, passionate but disaffected." Christensen, however, noted in her interview with Hall that her book In the Drink may have done better because of the popularity of Fielding's Bridget Jones.
Jennifer Wiener of the Philadelphia Inquirer called the strong female characters like Claudia "smart and sharp and ironic"; in fact, "you want to set them loose on the world, like superheroes." Time magazine reviewer Ginia Bellafante wrote that "Claudia is endearing because she remains appreciative of her own grittiness."
Christensen's second book, Jeremy Thrane, again finds its protagonist in New York City. Jeremy is a gay man who has recently been dumped by his closeted, married, Hollywood-star lover who fears being exposed to the media. Jeremy worked for his lover as an "archivist" for five years; now, without a boyfriend or a job, he has an opportunity to finish his novel, which is based on his loser father's life. When asked in an interview with Ron Hogan for Beatrice.com about her inspiration for Jeremy Thrane, Christensen explained that she "wanted to write a book about somebody who was stuck in a relationship that can never be more than it is, and then see how his life changed when he was out of that relationship." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly considered Christensen's writing "sumptuous, … wicked and wise, resulting in a smart, sassy urban tale." Devon Thomas of Library Journal declared that the characters in Jeremy Thrane are "well realized." Writing for the New York Times Book Review, Mary Elizabeth Williams called Jeremy Thrane a character "accurate enough to be someone you know."
In her third novel, The Epicure's Lament, Christensen "ups the ante [from her first two novels], with loftier literary aspirations and succeeds masterfully," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The book features another of Christensen's loveable losers, Hugo Whittier, forty, a poet and essayist whose best writing years are behind him. Now he has retreated to the family estate on the Hudson River Valley, there to end his days filling notebooks with autobiographical data, reading M.F.K. Fisher on food, and chain smoking in order to hasten his demise from a rare disease. But Hugo is not simply left to molder away. Soon he is ensnared in the machinations and needs of a string of visitors, from his older brother to his long-divorced ex-wife who now wants to get back together, and from a young girl who may or may not be his daughter to a paid killer who once had a contract on Hugo. The Publishers Weekly contributor concluded: "This is an impressive tome, one that tickles the funny bone and feeds the mind."
Other reviewers agreed with this assessment. Reviewing The Epicure's Lament in Time, Lev Grossman noted: "It takes a master puppeteer to put this kind of thing across, and Christensen gives a virtuoso performance, tossing off perfect sentences seemingly at random, delivering them with a sneer that makes them more delicious." Similarly, Library Journal contributor Lawrence Rungren called the book "a mordantly comic romp" and compared Hugh to a "Nabokov antihero." Also focusing on the character of the protagonist, Booklist writer Kristine Huntley observed: "Unexpectedly charming in some places, absolutely dastardly in others, Hugo is an utterly unforgettable character." Further praise for Christensen's novel came from People critic Edward Nawotka, who termed it "a mini-masterpiece about the despair of desire." Likewise, a Kirkus Reviews contributor found the book to provide "first-rate adult entertainment," and went on to rate it "Christensen's most impressive [novel] yet."
Christensen's 2007 novel, The Great Man, is, despite its title, mostly absent of living men. Instead, it employs the dead painter, Oscar Feldman, as the focal point for an investigation of aging in the three women Oscar left behind: his wife, his mistress, and his sister. A New York magazine reviewer dubbed the work a "clever and incisive novel." The story is propelled by two competing biographers who are on the trail of Oscar Feldman's story, attempting to uncover all the secrets in the life of this figurative artist from the 1950s, known for his egotism as much as for his female nudes. The story is thus filtered through the memories of the women who knew him best, now all elderly: his widow, Abigail, his long-time mistress, Teddy, and his lesbian painter sister, Maxine. The latter are, according to Passaro "two of the most complex, intelligent, and appealing female figures in recent fiction." Indeed, the resulting novel is more about these three women, their dreams, desires, and the manner in which they have grown old, than it is about the hapless painter Feldman. A New Yorker critic found the work a "snippy comedy of manners," further noting that Christensen's perceptive "picture of … old age is satisfyingly detailed."
The Great Man met with general critical praise. Christine Perkins, writing in Library Journal, stated that Christensen "excels at imagining the inner thoughts of this mixed trio of septuagenarians, especially regarding their sexuality." According to Booklist contributor Donna Seaman, The Great Man is an "arch and gratifying novel"; a Kirkus Reviews critic called it "a joyful art-world romp from Christensen … that allows aging women to come across as sexy." Similarly, a Publishers Weekly reviewer termed The Great Man a "penetratingly observed novel," and Seattle Times critic Mary Brennan commended the book for providing "the sunniest fictional depiction in recent memory of sex after 70." Janet Maslin, writing in the New York Times, had additional praise, commenting that Christensen "is a witty observer of the art universe that her characters inhabit." And a USA Today critic concluded that Christensen "boldly has raised the bar for writers who hope to realistically portray the aging American woman."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 15, 1999, Catherine Sias, review of In the Drink, p. 1512; December 15, 2003, Kristine Huntley, review of The Epicure's Lament, p. 725; July 1, 2007, Donna Seaman, review of The Great Man, p. 27.
Christian Science Monitor, August 28, 2007, Yvonne Zipp, review of The Great Man.
Entertainment Weekly, June 18, 1999, Nikki Amdur, review of In the Drink, p. 72; September 7, 2001, review of Jeremy Thrane, p. 158; February 20, 2004, Jennifer Reese, review of The Epicure's Lament, p. 70.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2003, review of The Epicure's Lament, p. 1369; June 15, 2007, review of The Great Man.
Library Journal, April 1, 1999, Beth Gibbs, review of In the Drink, p. 128; October 1, 1999, review of In the Drink, p. 50; August, 2001, Devon Thomas, review of Jeremy Thrane, p. 159; January, 2004, Lawrence Rungren, review of The Epicure's Lament, p. 152; August 1, 2007, Christine Perkins, review of The Great Man, p. 64.
New York, August 20, 2007, "Is This Book Worth Getting? A No-frills Guide to the Just-published Fiction Shelf," p. 65.
New Yorker, August 13, 2007, review of The Great Man, p. 80.
New York Observer, August 14, 2007, Hillary Frey, review of The Great Man.
New York Times, August 6, 2007, Janet Maslin, review of The Great Man.
New York Times Book Review, May 23, 1999, Vanessa Grigoriadis, review of In the Drink, p. 23; July 29, 2001, Mary Elizabeth Williams, review of Jeremy Thrane, p. 16.
O, the Oprah Magazine, September, 2007, Vince Passaro, "Brush to Judgment: A Witty, Acute New Novel Takes Aim at the Art World," p. 246.
People, March 22, 2004, Edward Nawotka, review of The Epicure's Lament, p. 50.
Philadelphia Inquirer, August 4, 1999, Jennifer Weiner, "Bridget Boom Starts Spate of Books by First-time Thirtysomething Americans," p. K6847.
Publishers Weekly, March 8, 1999, review of In the Drink, p. 45; August 6, 2001, review of Jeremy Thrane, p. 62; November 17, 2004, review of The Epicure's Lament, p. 40; May 21, 2007, review of The Great Man, p. 31.
San Francisco Chronicle, August 14, 2007, Elizabeth Koch, review of The Great Man.
Seattle Times, September 14, 2007, Mary Brennan, review of The Great Man.
Time, April 19, 1999, Ginia Bellafante, "Beyond Bridget Jones: Three New Novels Dig Deeper into Single Life," p. 78; February 23, 2004, Lev Grossman, review of The Epicure's Lament, p. 61.
USA Today, August 29, 2007, review of The Great Man.
Agony Column Book Reviews and Commentary,http://trashotron.com/agony/ (February 15, 2008), Rick Kleffel, review of The Great Man.
Austin Chronicle Online,http://www.austinchronicle.com/ (February 15, 2008), Sofia Resnick, review of The Great Man.
Beatrice: The Collected Interviews Online,http://www.beatrice.com/interviews/ (2001), Ron Hogan, "Beatrice Interview: Kate Christensen."
Billburg.com,http://www.billburg.com/arts/ (2001), Tim Hall, "Kate Christensen: In the Pink."
Bold Type,http://www.boldtype.com/ (July 2, 1999), interview with the author.
January,http://www.januarymagazine.com/ (February 15, 2008), Tony Buchsbaum, review of The Great Man.
Small Spiral Notebook,http://www.smallspiralnotebook.com/ (September 21, 2007), Joanna Pearson, review of The Great Man.