Off Course

A Novel

Michelle Huneven

Sarah Crichton Books

A bear climbs onto a cabin’s deck, presses his nose to the sliding door. Inside, a young woman stands to face him. She comes closer, and closer yet, until only the glass stands between them . . .

The year is 1981, Reagan is in the White House, and the country is stalled in a recession. Cressida Hartley, a gifted Ph.D. student in economics, moves into her parents' shabby A-frame cabin in the Sierras to write her dissertation. In her most intimate and emotionally compelling novel to date, Michelle Huneven--author of Blame, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award--returns with her signature mix of fine-grained storytelling, unforgettable characters, and moral complexity.

Cress, increasingly resistant to her topic (art in the marketplace), allows herself to be drawn into the social life of the small mountain community. The exuberant local lodge owner, Jakey Yates, with his big personality and great animal magnetism, is the first to blur Cress' focus. The builder Rick Garsh gives her a job driving up and down the mountain for supplies. And then there are the two Morrow brothers, skilled carpenters, who are witty, intriguing, and married.

As Cress tells her best friend back home in Pasadena, being a single woman on the mountain amounts to a form of public service. Falling prey to her own perilous reasoning, she soon finds herself in dark new territory, subject to forces beyond her control from both within and without.

Unsentimental, immersive, and beautifully written--"Huneven's prose is flawless," according to The New Yorker--Off Course evokes the rapture of new love, the addictive draw of an intense, impossible connection, and what happens when two people simply can't let go of each other or of their previous commitments. As her characters struggle with and delight in one another, Huneven subtly exposes the personal and social forces at play: issues of class, money, and family, as well as the intricate emotional and economic transactions between parents and children, between husbands and wives, between lovers, and between friends.

Michelle Huneven is one of our most searching, elegant novelists--Richard Russo has called her "a writer of extraordinary and thrilling talent." In Off Course, she introduces us to an intelligent young woman who discovers that love is the great distraction, and impossible love the greatest distraction of all.


Read an Excerpt

Cressida Hartley moved up to her parents’ mountain cabin to finish her dissertation. She would not become one of the aging lurkers around the Econ Department who hoped for sections of Intro to teach while the tenure track shimmered eternally on the far side of two hundred pages.
Her friend Tillie thought of the cabin. “Tell your folks you need three months free and clear and just bang it out up there.”
As it happened, Sam and Sylvia Hartley were building a new cabin behind the old A-frame and they liked the idea of Cress being around to keep an


Praise for Off Course

Praise for Off Course
"Skillful and perceptive" —The New York Times Book Review

“Huneven’s touch is sure, and her protagonist is simultaneously sympathetic and maddening. The landscape descriptions are erotic, and the erotic scenes have near-hallucinatory power.” —The New Yorker

"Huneven has a sharp facility with language that registers both the horror of how low Cress lets herself sink and the mundanity of it all." —The Boston Globe

"Huneven, a writer of great empathy and emotional precision, doesn't resort to cheap moralizing here. Such easy lessons would give this gracefully written novel the harsh sting of a cheap, cautionary tale. Instead, she lets her characters play out their scenarios like real adults must—weighing the pleasures of the present against their own future guilt..." —The Los Angeles Times

"[Huneven's] prose exudes such a rumpled, sensuous vibe, it practically gives you bedhead." —Los Angeles Magazine

"Michelle Huneven delivers an enthralling tale of impulsive decisions, impossible love, and catastrophic consequences." —Bustle

"The greatest triumph of Off Course lies in Huneven's remarkable ability to create a mood, and to bring the reader fully inside it." —The Huffington Post

"Sensitive, reflective and uncomfortably true to life, with a wonderfully rich cast of supporting characters." —Kirkus (starred review)

"If I had to highlight just one of Huneven’s many abundant talents, it would be this: She makes you forget that the people you’re reading about don’t actually exist. You feel as if you were reading about your own family and friends… Michelle Huneven has produced a literary miracle." —PopMatters

Praise for Blame
"Unfold[s] like a thriller, creating a sense of urgency and mystery even about everyday matters . . . Huneven’s prose moves like a hummingbird, in small bursts that are improbably fast and graceful."—Maria Russo, The New York Times Book Review

"[An] elegant, hair-raising novel . . . Huneven’s prose is flawless."—The New Yorker

"The satisfactions Blame offers readers are elegant prose and, deeper than that aesthetic pleasure, the intelligence and compassion Huneven brings to her characters. She holds them all with the utmost tenderness."—Brigitte Frase, Los Angeles Times

Praise for Jamesland

"Michelle Huneven is a writer of extraordinary and thrilling talent, and Jamesland is a marvel."—Richard Russo

"Generosity, humor and tolerance shine in Huneven’s writing."—Michael Harris, Los Angeles Times Book Review


Praise for Round Rock

"Like that other West Coast chronicler of struggling Americans, Raymond Carver, . . . Huneven is not interested in literary pretension or postmodern razzle-dazzle, but in achieving a measure of truth— and her generous, engaging novel does just that."—Valerie Sayers, The New York Times Book Review

In the Press

The first time I read-" | Book Keeping
To step out onto the vast lawn and be greeted by an adorable terrier and three appreciative men
- Book Keeping
Life throws a few curves in Michelle Huneven's 'Off Course' - latimes.com
Book Review: A dramatic change of scenery for the main character in Michelle Huneven's empathic 'Off Course' fails to erase the kinds of decisions required of her.
- Los Angeles Times
Book Keeping with Michelle Huneven | Book Keeping
I couldn't sleep and I went into my husband's office and looked for a boring book to put me to sleep. Oh, there's Moby Dick, I thought. That'll do the trick. Five chapters later, I was wide awake and practically shouting with pleasure.
- FSG's Book Keeping
Book Keeping with Michelle Huneven | Book Keeping
I couldn't sleep and I went into my husband's office and looked for a boring book to put me to sleep. Oh, there's Moby Dick, I thought. That'll do the trick. Five chapters later, I was wide awake and practically shouting with pleasure.
- Book Keeping
An Off Course '80s Sampler | Book Keeping
I imagine them driving en masse and on dates into Hollywood to see the Cramps, the Specials, the Blasters, a local rockabilly group from Downey, or the quintessential LA punk band, X, at the Roxy, the Whisky, or Madame Wong's in Chinatown.
- Book Keeping

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Michelle Huneven

  • Michelle Huneven is the author of three previous novels—Blame, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Jamesland; and Round Rock. She lives in Altadena, California, with her husband, Jim Potter.

  • Michelle Huneven © Karen Tapia
    Michelle Huneven




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Off Course

A Novel

Michelle Huneven

SCIBA Book Award - Finalist