The Astral is all about experiencing life as it is, and everything from the plot, to characters, setting, and writing style beautifully convey the novel's theme. The book is set in Brooklyn. Having lived there, I felt Christensen did an excellent job of capturing the texture of real daily life in the borough. Her protagonist, a poet, prides himself on the fact that his poetry celebrates reality, that the only way he knows to live is by honestly, fully experiencing the reality of his days. The crisis at the beginning of the novel (getting kicked out by his wife in retribution for an affair he did not have) sets him on the path to discovering that he has been avoiding certain parts of his daily experience, building a fantasy of family life and marriage that either never existed or had already collapsed by the arrival of the crisis. Christensen's characters are are real and three dimensional, although a few (particularly James) feel more like foils for the protagonist and tools of the narrative than living breathing people.
Best of all, I love the ending of this book. There is a climax, a definitive ending to the story between the protagonist and his relationship to the life he believed he was living. But the denouement (where many books fall flat for me) is a beautiful admission that our experience is a delicate balance between the stories we tell ourselves, and our perception of the nuts and bolts of the world around us, which have their own transcendent radiance, no matter how well-worn or shabby.