OFF COURSE by Michelle Huneven

Book Quote:

“Morning brought still more reminders of why she’d hated the cabin: a panging headache, a weird gluey lethargy, small wheeling prisms in her vision. Her mother had attributed these symptoms to Cress’s attitude, admittedly rotten. But Sylvia Hartley was off by a letter, as Cress had discovered camping in the Tetons and skiing in Utah. Anywhere above 6,000 feet, she was a poor adapter.

Book Review:

Review by Betsey Van Horn  (APR 21, 2014)

Cressida Hartley is suffering from a serious case of ennui. At 28, she is stagnating in ABD status, trying to finish her dissertation in economics, wholly disliking her field of expertise. It’s the eighties, and Reaganomics doesn’t suit her. But she found a way to integrate her affinity with art with her thesis–she’s writing about the value of art in the marketplace. So she moves to her parents vacation A-frame in the Sierras, intending to wrap herself in the mountain air, solitude, and writing.

Soon enough, Cress seeks out disruptions and distractions, and becomes absorbed in the community. I was installed in the story quickly, as I noted that her quirky supporting cast of characters were humanized and sympathetic rather than straw caricatures. Her parents are demanding and difficult. They are building a new cabin and come down periodically, often on the verge of suing the contractor, Ricky Garsh. Cress’s father is peevish and parsimonious to the point of churlish, even to his own children. Cress’s sister, Sharon, now living in London, goes through the primal birth therapy, so popular during this era. This alerts the reader that the sisters had some significant issues. Cress is largely unaware of her deep-seated problems, and acts out by entwining in a difficult relationship. Twice. And with much older men.

“She wasn’t making specific plans, but that hairline crack, she knew, could widen instantly to accommodate her, and day by day, its thin blackness grew less frightening, more logical and familiar, as if she could now walk right up, touch it with her fingertips, and, with a quick last smile over her shoulder at the fading world, slip right in.”

This is not a prosaic domestic drama, not with Huneven at the helm. As in all her novels, she is plugged into collective concerns such as alcohol abuse and complex, obsessive relationships. And always, nature. The landscape, wildlife, and climate buttress the story and provide ample adventure and scenic beauty, as well as some brassy comedy.

This is Huneven’s most fully realized novel, with a stable focus and a memorable denouement. I’m still inhabiting Cress’s life, long after the past page.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-5-0 from 3 readers
PUBLISHER: Sarah Crichton Books (April 1, 2014)
REVIEWER: Betsey Van Horn
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Michelle Huneven
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April 21, 2014 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Character Driven, Contemporary

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