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When I started writing The Astral, I had recently left a 12-year marriage and moved out of the house my husband and I owned together in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I had just turned 46, and here I was, starting over again, living in a rented apartment, cooking dinners for one.
The idea for The Astral had come to me months earlier, from my neighborhood itself. During the many years I lived there, Greenpoint had always struck me as a great setting for a novel -- it's gritty and full of history, with old waterfront brick factory buildings, crumbling East River piers, but it's also vital and beautiful, with streets filled with bustling life, low row houses on tree-lined streets making the sky seem very big overhead. There are views of the Manhattan skyline just across the river.
The Astral is a real place in Greenpoint, a big, rose-colored, 19th-century apartment building that spans the width of an entire block. To this day, I have never set foot inside, but I used to walk by it a lot as I went about my daily life. Looking up at the turrets and towers and arched windows, I used to wonder about the people who lived there.
Gradually, a story emerged in my imagination: a couple in their late 50s named Harry and Luz Quirk who'd raised their two children, Hector and Karina, there, and stayed on after their kids grew up and left home. And then, one day, Luz becomes convinced that Harry is in love with Marion, his female best friend, and that they've been having an affair for years. She throws him out of the Astral. For most of the novel, he tries to go back, like Adam trying to return to Eve in Eden.
As I worked on The Astral, I felt a sudden, unexpected connection to Harry. I'd been married and settled when the idea for the book came to me, but now, I too was shattered by the end of my own long marriage, exiled from the home I thought I'd live in forever, and trying to start over at midlife.
As I traveled along with Harry, I thought a lot about the course of a life -- how unexpected difficulties can throw us for a loop, but they can also be a catalyst for self-knowledge and internal reckoning.
By the time I wrote the ending of The Astral, I had fallen in love again and had begun a new life in New England. Walking with Harry through the streets of Greenpoint, the place I was saying goodbye to, I had been able to let go of it as I saw it through his eyes, remembering from far away.