Twenty-two-year-old Phoebe and her worldly friend Carmen take an apartment in the East Village in 1984, getting swept up—and almost swept away—in the gritty glamor of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Phoebe becomes Astrid, a club-based fortuneteller, who can't foresee the challenges she will face in her relationship with Carmen and herself.
The friendship depicted in Astrid Sees All may be fraught and inconstant, but the novel itself provides amenable companionship. Astrid is Standiford’s first novel for adults, after numerous books for children and teen readers. Perhaps that background may explain how Astrid manages to maintain a tone of goodhearted openness, even as the events in Phoebe’s world turn darker and more dangerous. Regardless, Standiford creates an unusually hopeful path through this kind of grim subject matter. Readers who are drawn to Astrid Sees All because they enjoy reveling in the bygone drama and squalor of this storied era in New York’s history will likely find both familiarity and gentle surprise.
The zeitgeisty details give Astrid Sees All a you-had-to-be-there authenticity, but at times they come at the expense of storytelling. Standiford crams a lot into her slim novel ... a shocking denouement reveals a very real horror stalking the streets of the East Village. Standiford doesn’t manage to pull off this abrupt twist, which arrives too late and is resolved too quickly to fit seamlessly with the rest of the story. Likewise, the eventual resolution to Carmen and Phoebe’s falling out feels forced and unearned. But as a portrait of a now-lost slice of slightly seedy bohemian New York, Astrid Sees All can’t help but enchant.
Standiford captures a beating, smoky world there, and within Phoebe, who keeps her deepest feelings hidden from everyone but readers. Meanwhile, danger seems everywhere, and Atti needs increasing care from Carmen. There is page-turning plot aplenty here, dealing with the pains of grief, addiction, and simply growing up, all made endurable by love and friendship.