Sex is lots of things to lots of people, and sometimes — just sometimes — it leads to trouble. In Kate Christensen's new novel, fortysomething married-with-child Manhattan psychotherapist Josie realizes while flirting casually with a man at a party that she aches to unhitch from her husband. Meanwhile the media is savaging her best college pal, indie rock-star Raquel, for sleeping with a much-younger man whose partner is pregnant. And that's why its title is Trouble.
Inspiration for the book came to Brooklyn-based Christensen during a 2006 visit to Mexico City: "Walking around the city, hanging out in cantinas, hearing music, going to art openings, I was struck by the idea of two longtime middle-aged female friends, both in a lot of trouble in their lives, meeting in Mexico City to offer each other moral support, escape, and a return to their lost, younger selves," says the author, who will be at Diesel (5433 College Ave., Oakland) on Thursday, July 2.
That sprawling sea of cars, curio shops, and cathedrals seemed the perfect setting for such a story because in both looks and spirit it's light years away from slick Manhattan and also from Los Angeles, which Christensen describes as a realm of "eternal youth, celebrity culture, and life in the public eye." By contrast, "Mexico City is a Catholic, colonial, vast city built on Aztec ruins; it is a place of both elemental ever-present death and wild, untrammeled life. Things happen in Mexico City; both life and death are constant and powerful there. It's a very good place to go to shake something loose, to overcome psychic stasis or paralysis."
With crucifixes everywhere you look, Mexico City brings up memories — and sexual guilt — for Catholic-school alumna Josie and half-Latina Raquel. Assessing their present and past and the shifting meanings of intimacy in their lives, the pair cannot help but revisit the fits and starts of their own long bond. Writing about female friendship appealed to Christensen, whose previous novel The Great Man won a 2008 PEN/Faulkner Award, "because of a very painful misunderstanding I had had with my own best friend: a rift that, once healed, brought to my consciousness the fact that there are no formal codified structures for female friendship, no commitment or breakup ceremonies, no structures in place for intervention during times of crisis, such as friendship therapy." (Now there's a worthy career choice for psych majors.) "Close female friendship is a relationship that often goes as deep as, or deeper than, marriage or family, but which has no rights or rules. I wanted to write about this in a direct, visceral, emotional way."
Each of Christensen's novels, she says, "has begun as the idea of a character, developed into a distinct narrative voice, and unfolded from there; I hear them talking, and then I allow them to start narrating their story through me. Not channeling exactly — more like taking on a persona." 7 p.m., free. Diesel.Booksense.com
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