Literary Criticism and Significance
The Great Man by Kate Christensen (published in 2008) was hailed as an entertaining, intriguing, and clever weaving of characters that shows the interrelatedness of life. Christensen was able to produce a novel that was not only “great fun from start to finish” and possessing “pop-intellectual entertainment” but also could be described as “heartbreaking” and “touching.” The juxtaposition of the entertainment value with the incisive depth of characters present in the novel is a great balance. That combination, summed up as both “hilarious and poignant,” allows Christensen to tell a lifetime’s worth of heartache, joy, and complexity without becoming too heavy or depressing.
Of note in the novel is Christensen’s sensitive presentation of the lives of the elderly; the main characters are all older women who still possess powerful emotions, drives, needs, wants, and a clear and pronounced memory. Christensen flies in the face of all stereotypical assumptions that are drawn about aging and life as a senior citizen; through her characters, she declares boldly and without equivocation that life goes on, in full force, even when one’s body grows old. Her sensitive and invigorating presentation of characters who “challenge typical depictions of the elderly” is refreshing and enlightening.
A particular strength of The Great Man is Christensen’s remarkable ability to use dialogue to reveal profound and complex emotional entanglements that all human beings encounter in the course of their lives. Structuring the book around the concept of biographers interviewing women about their relationship with a man allowed Christensen to reveal the innermost thoughts and feelings of four very different and very complex women. Her creation of such detailed, strong characters that all possess their own voices, personalities, fears, and regrets is a remarkable feat in psychology and character study.
The subject matter at times is openly sexual and racy; it is a novel that is definitely suited for a very mature, adult audience. Its focus on the perspectives of elderly women also targets adults as the intended audience of this novel. It will be of keen interest to art lovers, art historians, and artists themselves; Christensen describes with great confidence many aspects of art technique and history. Those in the art world will enjoy Christensen’s derision of “the devolution of art” and the “egos that fuel” the avant-garde art world. However, even if you are not a student of art, the well-rounded characters, fast-paced plotting, and well-timed suspense will make this a fast, entertaining, and moving read. The novel is a fascinating look into the complexity of human nature, relationships, and aging, and will be sure to be thought provoking for all adults who read it.