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Off Courseby Michelle Huneven
Synopses & Reviews
A bear climbs onto a cabins deck, presses his nose to the sliding door. Inside, a young woman stands to face him. She comes closer, and closer yet, until only the glass stands between them . . .
The year is 1981, Reagan is in the White House, and the country is stalled in a recession. Cressida Hartley, a gifted Ph.D. student in economics, moves into her parents' shabby A-frame cabin in the Sierras to write her dissertation. In her most intimate and emotionally compelling novel to date, Michelle Huneven--author of Blame, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award--returns with her signature mix of fine-grained storytelling, unforgettable characters, and moral complexity.
Cress, increasingly resistant to her topic (art in the marketplace), allows herself to be drawn into the social life of the small mountain community. The exuberant local lodge owner, Jakey Yates, with his big personality and great animal magnetism, is the first to blur Cress' focus. The builder Rick Garsh gives her a job driving up and down the mountain for supplies. And then there are the two Morrow brothers, skilled carpenters, who are witty, intriguing, and married.
As Cress tells her best friend back home in Pasadena, being a single woman on the mountain amounts to a form of public service. Falling prey to her own perilous reasoning, she soon finds herself in dark new territory, subject to forces beyond her control from both within and without.
Unsentimental, immersive, and beautifully written--"Huneven's prose is flawless," according to The New Yorker--Off Course evokes the rapture of new love, the addictive draw of an intense, impossible connection, and what happens when two people simply can't let go of each other or of their previous commitments. As her characters struggle with and delight in one another, Huneven subtly exposes the personal and social forces at play: issues of class, money, and family, as well as the intricate emotional and economic transactions between parents and children, between husbands and wives, between lovers, and between friends.
Michelle Huneven is one of our most searching, elegant novelists--Richard Russo has called her "a writer of extraordinary and thrilling talent." In Off Course, she introduces us to an intelligent young woman who discovers that love is the great distraction, and impossible love the greatest distraction of all.
"For readers unfamiliar with Huneven's previous novels, such as Blame, Cressida Hartley may seem at first like a romance heroine. When Cress moves temporarily into her family's cabin in the Sierras in the early 1980s, ostensibly to finish her economics dissertation, Jakey — the stereotypical burly backwoodsman — immediately poses a distraction. But their tryst doesn't lead to a happily ever after: it proves to be only a prologue to the main story. After Jakey loses interest in her, Cress finds a less likely romantic partner in Quinn, a somber carpenter grappling with his father's suicide who has been married for 19 years. With unflinching emotional honesty, Huneven chronicles their passionate four-year affair, during which time Cress's family and friends urge her to leave the mountain and begin her career. Instead, she allows her personality to be subsumed into Quinn's. The tension between the two is slowly pulled taut, until it finally snaps: Cress runs up against Quinn's sense of familial duty. Underlying the plot is an uncomfortable assumption that happiness is determined by relationships — Cress's accomplishments are so briefly noted (her Ph.D., a high-powered job), that they seem to be an afterthought. But while Huneven's latest will likely disappoint romantics, Cress makes for an eerily relatable and heartbreaking protagonist. Agent: Jin Auh, Wylie Agency. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From the author of Blame, a new novel about the unexpected damage inflicted by romantic entanglements
Its the early 1980s: Reagan is in the White House and his trickle-down theory is gaining traction in the national psyche. Cressida Hartley, twenty-eight, a PhD candidate in economics, has moved to her parents shabby A-frame in the Sierras, hoping to finish her dissertation about art in the marketplace. Though she came seeking solitude, she finds herself increasingly drawn into the life of the small mountain community, and shes seduced by a local lodge owner, Jakey Yates, a big, burly, immensely attractive man in his late forties. Rick Garsh, the local contractor, gives Cress a part time job. Through Rick she meets the Morrow brothers, two talented fine-finish carpenters. They are handsome, amusing, intriguing, and married.
As Cress tells her best friend back home in Pasadena, being a single woman on the mountain amounts to a form of public service. Increasingly uninspired by her dissertation, Cress allows love, adultery, and obsession to commandeer her life, and soon she becomes the victim of her own perilous reasoning.
Michelle Huneven is one of our most searching, elegant novelists—Richard Russo has called her “a writer of extraordinary and thrilling talent.” In Off Course, she tells the cautionary tale of an intelligent young woman seeking her place in life only to discover that love is the great distraction, and impossible love the greatest distraction of all.
About the Author
Michelle Huneven is the author of three previous novels—Blame, Jamesland, and Round Rock. Her nonfiction writing includes restaurant reviews for the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Weekly, other food journalism, and, with Bernadette Murphy, The Tao Gals Guide to Real Estate. She has received a General Electric Foundation Award for Younger Writers and a Whiting Writers Award for fiction. Huneven lives in Altadena, California, with her husband, Jim Potter.
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