Astrid Sees All: A Review

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Natalie Standiford’s “Astrid Sees All” takes readers through the streets of 1980s New York when drugs, crime, and wannabe’s ruled. The buildup is slow, the middle drags, but the novel’s ending makes it all worth it.

In 1984, Baltimore native Phoebe Hayes lived in New York with her roommate and friend Carmen, an uncertified golden girl. Phoebe loves her friendship with Carmen and envies her life and how people flock to Carmen; her je ne sais quoi way of moving around New York. While Carmen occupies herself with taking care of her heroin-addicted boyfriend Atti, Phoebe discovers the club life of New York City. Phoebe gets a gig as a fortune-teller named Astrid for a nightclub using movie ticket stubs rather than tarot cards. Tension boils over into an argument when Phoebe spends the night with Carmen’s love interest after Atti, Jem. Carmen leaves the two girls’ apartment, and Phoebe spends the next few months searching for her friend. The book ends with Phoebe finding Carmen strung out in a park and bringing her back home to the apartment. However, Phoebe notices she is being followed, and a man forcefully enters their apartment who tries attacking her. Luckily she defends herself with a baseball bat, knocking out the intruder. 

The story is a blend of all the hip, ultra-cool stories from the 1980s and the gritty, darker sides of New York. Drug use is rampant throughout the novel and becomes a different character, at least for me: Carmen, Phoebe, and coke. Standiford includes real-life crime stories in the book, such as the Tompkins Square Park killer and the disappearance of several young women in NYC during the time.

The dynamic between the two friends was uneven. Phoebe cared for her friend, and Carmen loved the attention very much. However, the friendship Phoebe wanted or possibly believed she had with Carmen wasn’t real. The name of the book is “Astrid Sees All,” but the main character couldn’t see apparent signs around the lack of depth in her friendship with Carmen, the hurt she caused her mother after running back to New York from Baltimore after the death of Phoebe’s father, and her affair with Dr. Bergen. 

This book is a you-had-to-be-there story. The storyline flows, but there isn’t much substance to anchor a reader. I enjoyed the read, but the end of the book makes up for the lack of start. 

Imagine (1980s Warhol/Basquiat + poor out of towners in the East Village) divided by cocaine = Astrid Sees All.

3.5 stars

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