See more of the story

Kate Christensen's eighth novel is a brief, brilliant story of grief and love. It's Job on menopause, crying, "Why am I still here?" but without the biblical overtones. It's your next book club book. It's the novel your husband should read even though I've mentioned menopause. It's your coolest friend's most astute tirade on life. I loved it from page one.

After her mother dies, 53-year-old environmental journalist Rachel Calloway flies home to Maine to help her sister Celeste sort through their mother's things and spread her ashes. There are old grudges to mend, traumas to face and a complicated history with an old boyfriend to unravel.

Into this cauldron leaps our wry narrator, jeans flecked with lint, eyes gritty, teeth scuzzy, hair a mess. "I look and feel exactly what I am" she says as she boards the plane, "a middle-aged childless recently orphaned menopausal workaholic journalist... I feel the way the planet must feel, stressed, toxic, out of control."

She arrives home to a sister she deep-down adores but who's angry she didn't help out more in the final years of their mother's life. For her part, Rachel is convinced her mother didn't want her there. There are other sisterly peeves: Celeste assumes Rachel judges her for marrying a rich guy and living a small, provincial life. Rachel thinks Celeste considers her an introverted, antisocial freak.

As the sisters snipe, it becomes clear their competitive infighting is a result of their alcoholic mother pitting them against each other when they were kids — which is another trauma they must work through. And then there is also the old boyfriend, a man who pushes all of Rachel's sexual buttons and is now married to Celeste's best friend.

But as these fraught histories play out and the cracks in their lives begin to show, the real monster rears its head: At this stage of their lives, the women feel invisible. Celeste's nearly adult children disdain her and her husband doesn't look up from his phone long enough to notice her. Rachel's former husband is dying of ALS and her 30-year reporting career has ended because an editor, "a former C-student frat boy with big ideas for himself," fired her.

"I'm afraid that without my job, I won't fully exist" Rachel thinks.

"I feel like a houseplant," Celeste confides.

Why not "remove my own wasteful body from the general global overload of human life," Rachel muses, "Literally no one needs me."

How Rachel handles this stage of life is subtle and instructive, and it's why we should have more novels like this, told from this snarky viewpoint. Rachel examines her life, the ups and downs of temperature and mood as a scientist examines the planet, trying to find beauty, trying to be hopeful. Like a shark, she keeps moving.

Her insights are small, even obvious. They've been there all along; she just needed to articulate them. And she does, beautifully.

Christine Brunkhorst is a Twin Cities writer and reviewer.

Welcome Home, Stranger

By: Kate Christensen.

Publisher: Harper, 224 pages, $28.99