cover image The Last Cruise

The Last Cruise

Kate Christensen. Doubleday, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-385-53628-8

This sly novel from Christensen (winner of the Pen/Faulkner Award for The Great Man) begins as a casual romp and then heads inexorably into darker territory. Embarking from California on the final voyage of an ocean liner that first hit the seas in the 1950s are former journalist and current Maine farmer Christine, aging Israeli violinist Miriam, and troubled Hungarian cook Mick. As Christine lounges in the sun and observes the other passengers, Miriam prepares to play a complicated piece with the other members of her string quartet and Mick copes with growing conflicts among the members of the kitchen staff. When a strike by the staff coincides with increasingly serious problems with the mechanics of the ship, the cruise quickly loses its luster. The three central characters and half a dozen others are clearly developed as Christensen integrates their personal stories into the microcosm of the onboard society. While the author’s attempts to keep the boat isolated from contact with the outside world sometimes strain credulity, and her careful parcelling out of romantic difficulties seems less than organic, the book steadily gains power as the boat loses its, and the portrayal of a small society on the edge of chaos is haunting. Christensen has crafted a Ship of Fools for an era of environmental concerns and social unrest. (July)