Welcome home, stranger A novel

Kate Christensen, 1962-

Book - 2023

"An environmental journalist in Washington, DC, Rachel has shunned her New England working-class family for years. Divorced and childless in her middle age, she's a true independent spirit with the pain and experience to prove it. Coping with challenges large and small, she thinks her life is in free fall-until she's summoned home to deal with the aftermath of her mother's death. Then things really fall apart. Surrounded by a cast of sometimes comic, sometimes heartbreakingly serious characters-an arriviste sister, an alcoholic brother-in-law and, most importantly, the love of her life recently married to the sister's best friend-Rachel must come to terms with her past, the sorrow she has long buried, and the ghost ...of the mother who, for better and worse, made her the woman she is."--Dust jacket flap.

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Subjects
Genres
Novels
Published
New York, NY : Harper 2023.
Language
English
Main Author
Kate Christensen, 1962- (author)
Edition
First edition
Physical Description
214 pages ; 24 cm
ISBN
9780063299702
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

The narrator in Christensen's (The Last Cruise, 2018) latest high-wire novel feels like she may spontaneously combust as she boards a plane for Maine and a confrontation with her past. A self-described "middle-aged childless recently orphaned menopausal workaholic journalist" living in Washington, DC, whose beat is the environment, Rachel is happiest on extensive polar expeditions. Now her mother, from whom she's long been estranged, has died. Rachel and her sister, Celeste, barely survived their fatherless childhood with their "criminally neglectful mentally ill mother." Rachel was the only one in their enclave to leave Maine and make something of herself in the larger world. Celeste married inherited wealth and lives with her family in a Portland mansion; now Rachel's longtime "wild boy" lover lives next door with his new wife. Rachel, who hopes fervently for an upside to menopause and who has inherited their mother's townhouse, is wound-tight, hilariously observant, caustically expressive, determined, and enraged as she copes with a firestorm of impossible situations. Christensen is a psychological Geiger-counter, registering every particle of emotion; a wizard at dialogue and redolent settings, and an intrepid choreographer of confoundment. From gasp-inducing absurdities and betrayals to a profound sense of our paralysis in the glare of climate change to a full-on embrace of family, love, home, and decency, Christensen's whirligig tale leaves readers dizzy with fresh and provocative insights.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In Christensen's penetrating latest (after The Last Cruise), a journalist returns to her hometown in Maine after the death of her estranged mother, Lucie. Rachel is a "middle-aged childless recently orphaned menopausal workaholic." Her sister, Celeste, is a mother of two, married to the scion of a wealthy family. The sisters quarrel (initially over the fact that Rachel was absent while Celeste nursed Lucie through cancer treatments and hospice care), then reconnect, then quarrel again. Lucie struggled with alcoholism and often pitted the sisters against each other. As they attempt to bring an end to their perpetual conflict, various male characters orbit them. There's Rachel's longtime lover David, now married and about to be a father; Neil, Celeste's distant husband; and Jesse, an unhoused man who reminds Rachel of her dead cousin, and whom she hires to fix up Lucie's house. The plot treads familiar ground, but Christensen skillfully portrays the issues at play in many families: there are deep bonds, but also deep resentments, "volcanic" emotions, and decades-old misunderstandings. The character Lucie, an immature, thwarted tyrant, is particularly well drawn. Readers in search of an engrossing family drama will find much to like. (Dec.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

After a decade away, a woman heads home to Maine to grapple with a resentful sister, a naughty ex-boyfriend, midlife hormones, and sundry personal demons. Journalist Rachel Calloway, the narrator of Christensen's eighth novel, is a self-described "middle-aged childless recently orphaned menopausal workaholic." Her life, she announces, is "hell." By day, Rachel chronicles the ravages of climate change, and by night retreats to the Washington, D.C., condo she shares with her former husband (who has ALS) and his boyfriend. The marriage ended when Rachel found the men in bed together, but while she has forgiven all, the boyfriend wants her out of the condo almost as much as her "evil little lickspittle rodent of a newly appointed editor in chief" wants her out of her job. That's more than enough drama to juice a plot right there, but in this smart yet unfocused novel, it's just distracting backstory. The real action begins when Rachel's narcissistic mother dies and leaves her a house in Portland, Maine. As Rachel's plane descends "over thick pine forests rolling to meet the hard metallic skin of the Atlantic Ocean, glinting in the sunlight," readers will instantly grasp that Christensen is serving up a dreamy new life for her embattled heroine in a postcard-pretty locale. Granted, complications abound. Rachel's sister, Celeste, frequently berates her for not helping nurse their mother through a brutal cancer death. She's also a passive-aggressive troublemaker: The night of Rachel's arrival, she invites Rachel's old flame, David Mansfield, and his new wife to dinner. It turns out that David wants back into Rachel's bed, and she would probably welcome him--except he may or may not have done something unforgivable with her late mother. Aiming to sell her inherited house and get back to Washington, Rachel finds a homeless pillhead to move in and help renovate. (As one does.) A crisis ensues. Throughout this jumpy novel, Rachel has been lost in Dante's figurative dark wood of midlife, but in its long finale she finds herself wandering around a literal dark wood complete with bears, until a path forward reveals itself. Underbaked novel about how you can go home again and, if it's coastal Maine, probably should. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.