cover image In the Drink

In the Drink

Kate Christensen. Doubleday Books, $22.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-385-49450-2

The smart, urban and aimless have found their heroine in this charmingly original debut novel. Claudia Steiner is a funny, pretty, cynical 29-year-old who has ""failed to connect"" and who's disillusioned with her spotty employment history and restless, rootless existence. Having long ago lost the journalistic ambition that brought her to Manhattan, Claudia lives in a hole of an apartment on the Upper West Side. She can't pay her rent or bills and spends all her money on cabs, take-out food and nights of drinking at East Village clubs. Her bleak love life consists of drunken one-night stands, a passionate but doomed relationship with a married poet and a consuming but seemingly unrequited love for her dearest friend, William. Claudia works as a ghostwriter (and personal secretary) to 70-something Jackie del Castellano, bestselling author and socialite, a ""semi-lunatic"" spitfire whose outrageous mistreatment of Claudia borders on the sadistic (yet perversely hilarious). Claudia's miserable existence approaches its nadir when she makes some endearingly horrific blunders at work and gets fired. ""A persistent little flame of self"" and a wonderfully ironic sense of humor--including a kind of wry pride in her capacity for boozing--pull her through, however. Claudia comes to realize that the people to whom she's enviously compared herself aren't what they appear to be: Jackie is not as invincible as she seems, and even William, her idealized romantic hero, has his dark side. The discovery of compassion and connection in the midst of Claudia's chaotic and confusing life encourages her to redefine what she wants and what it means to be an adult. Though often poignant, her memorable story never cloys and is enlivened with refreshingly unsentimental humor and a sparkling ensemble of skillfully drawn contemporary urban characters. (May)