Name game

In 1975, the world was overrun with infants named Christine or Kiersten or Kristen. At least this is how my mom imagined it. My dad, in a fit of divine improvisation, plucked a variation out of the sky. He invented the name Christa. He just made it up. Took two syllables, rammed them together and bam a name ? according to family lore.

Strangers marveled at it. Relatives older than 50 bumbled it. (Even my dad eventually misspelled it on a permission slip). And for six years I was the only Christa on my planet. Then on the first day of first grade in a tiny classroom in a tiny school, there was Christa S. She was a colorful Christa who if born in a more now era she would probably have a prescription to snort Ritalin off the school nurse?s thigh before recess.

Technically, my dad still could have invented the name. She was a few months younger than me.

Regardless of the crowd of Christas in Mrs. Carr?s class, it was still an unusual name not found on magnets, pencils, mini decorative license plates or mugs, which meant the name didn?t exist in the same was as, say, Katie or Kelly. I searched every corner of every card shop and T-shirt hut at the mall. Lots of variations. Never a Christa. I had to spell it for people, twice. ?No, C-H,? I?d say. Even now it bleeds into my last name for a garbled finale: ?Crystal Waller??

?No.?

In the mid-1980s, Billy Joel?s album ?An Innocent Man? included a track called ?Christie Lee.? It?s not his most famous song. It was never a single. It seems to have been written for his then Uptown Girl Christie Brinkley. Spelling aside, this was better than 100 Christa rainbow stickers and 100 pieces of Christa stationery. It sounded like he was singing ?Christa Leigh, Christa Leigh.? Just like me.

There is a Christa in Kate Christensen?s novel The Astral. She?s the blonde pseudo-guru. She?s the leader of what seems to be a religious cult. She is described in a mish-mash of unflattering ways. She?s been imprisoned for fraud. She?s hoodwinked and bilked. She has convinced the protagonist?s 20-something son that he is the chosen one and she?s decided to marry him. She?s not smart. She?s a surfer girl. She can?t be trusted. And every time she was described in the book, I read the sentence like it was born in a fortune cookie.

She?s a minor character. But I?m still a little bit 8, pointing at someone with the same name and looking around to see if anyone else noticed.

Aside from that, The Astral lives up to its billing as a summer read. Harry Quirk is an old-school poet who hasn?t done much in recent years. His fiery wife Luz kicks him out of their home because she suspects he has been diddling his longtime best friend, who is recently widowed. He actually hasn?t been, but since he has had an indiscretion in his past there is no way to convince Luz otherwise.

So he couch-surfs and apartment hops. He tries to convince her that she has misread the evidence, a book of his poetry he is working on that she thinks is an admission of guilt. In the meantime, his freegan daughter is playing intermediary and his son Hector has fallen in with a cult-like group of religious fanatics ? led by Christa.

This book is just okay.

The character of Harry feels incomplete and a bit of a contradiction to himself. He?s billed as bossed and berated, but seems to have these outbursts that are incongruent with that image. At one point he has a conversation with his exwife that is very hostile, aggressive that is probably supposed to be cathartic, but just kind of makes his ?growth process? into something ugly and snarling and hard to root for.

His daughter Karina is a playground worth of potential, but her freegan lifestyle isn?t really explored and instead she just plays this sort of flat voice of reason, void of any imperfection. And Hector?s foray into an Oz-style of religious figure is a strange direction for this fanatical bible banger to lean.

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