russian dolls

I am fascinated, and continue to find other writers who are fascinated, with the Russian doll aspect of life. With trying to get our minds around the fact that we are the same person who climbed out of a crib in the dark, who sat on one side of a see-saw at Spring Street School, who was pregnant four times.Babushka Dolls

And yet the Russian dolls make it seem easier than it is: they all look alike.  However, they do make clear the layering aspect of life that Georgia Heard was writing about. We are adding on as we go.

In Arlington Park, Rachel Cusk writes (about Solly) “She couldn’t locate a continuous sense of herself. It seemed to lie all around her in pieces, like the casings of Dora’s Russian doll when all the babies were out.”

In An Accidental Light, Elizabeth Diamond writes, “I am all ages rolled into one. I’m newborn. I’m just learning to walk. I’m the age I was when my mother died. I’m an angry mixed-up teen-ager, a selfish young man…I’m even an old man waiting to die, swallowing pills every day and listening to the ticking of his heart.”

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full circle

img_1238In July, I read Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk, a writer I’d never read before.  Upon finishing the novel, I immediately wanted to reread it.  Instead, I began a journey that has lasted four months:  reading each of Rachel Cusk’s books in the order she wrote them.  With this post, we come full circle, back to the book that started it all.

Watching Rachel Cusk develop as a writer was like watching a house being built.  With Arlington Park, her most recent book published in 2006, not only is the house built and decorated, but the author is now sitting by the fire with a latte.

Arlington Park is well written and digs deep into truth.  It’s about women–real and flawed.  It’s about marriage.  It’s about not only the lives we plan to live and choose to live, but the lives we end up living.  In an article written in 2005, Cusk said, “I remain fascinated by where you go as a woman once you are a mother, and if you ever come back.”  Arlington Park is one of the best books I read in 2008, and a new addition to my all-time favorite books.

The first sentence:  “All night the rain fell on Arlington Park.”  The falling of rain appears like a refrain throughout the book.  The rain falls on everyone in Arlington Park.  It falls on all of us.

The novel is divided into ten unmarked sections:  1-the rain fell; 2-Juliet; 3-Amanda; 4-Christine, Maisie and Stephanie at the mall; 5-Solly; 6-in the park/the rain had stopped; 7-Juliet; 8-Maisie; 9-Christine; and 10-party at Christine’s with Juliet, Maisie, and Maggie.

The first time I read it, I was so taken with Juliet that I didn’t want to leave her to switch to Amanda.  This time, it did not feel like a brusque change, but felt right.  Because it’s not just about one of us; it’s about all of us.

Here’s a little flavor of what you have to look forward to:

Juliet about a recording of a song by Ravel:  “The sound of it brought tears to Juliet’s eyes. It was the voice, that woman’s voice, so solitary and powerful, so–transcendent. It made Juliet think she could transcend it all, this little house with its stained carpets, its shopping, its flawed people, transcend the grey, rain-sodden distances of Arlington Park; transcend, even her own body, where bitterness lay like lead in the veins. She could open somewhere like a flower…open out all the petals packed inside her.”

Solly about her inability to communicate with a Japanese student renting out their extra room:  “…she became aware of how much of her lay shrouded in this inarticulable darkness.”

Solly:  “Suddenly she saw her life as a breeding ground, a community under a rock…There was a lack of light, a lack of higher purpose to it all. How could she have forgotten to find out what else there was? How could she have stayed there, under her rock, down in the mulch, and forgotten to take a look outside and see what was going on? All at once she didn’t know what she’d been thinking of.”


img_1043If I weren’t reading all of Rachel Cusk‘s books to look at how her writing develops over time, I would not have finished her sixth book, In the Fold, published in 2005.  As one reviewer wrote, “too little happened to too many people.”  Or another, the book was “so lacking in anything to capture my interest that I couldn’t even finish it.”

There are other opinions:  it was long listed for the 2005 Booker Prize. 

In the Fold is narrated by a man and full of dialogue. Perhaps an important step in a writer’s development is to try something different.  It gives you a reference point:  You do that better than this.  And then you can go boldly forth.

My favorite thing about the book is the name of the country home where most of the action takes place.  It’s called Egypt–no explanation given.  My favorite line refers to Egypt:  “This is our home.  It’s the place that matters, not the people in it.”

Another interesting point:  without realizing I had done it, two of the titles of posts on Rachel Cusk involve circles.  In this novel, the narrator’s wife says, “He’ll come around.”  The narrator then explains that she must be talking about the ‘big wheel,’ a theory whose basis is that “existence is not linear but circular and repetitive.” 

Next in the series, Rachel Cusk’s most recent book, Arlington Park–the novel which prompted me to take this journey.

like watching a house being built

In July, I read Arlington Park and discovered a writer new to me–Rachel Cusk.  She was born in Canada in 1967, grew up in Los Angeles, and now lives in England.  Arlington Park is her most recent novel.  Although I thought it was slightly brusque in its movement between characters and slightly haphazard in its structure, I also thought the writing was outstanding.  Upon finishing it, I immediately wanted to read it again.  Instead I decided to read all her books in chronological order. 

It’s like watching a house being built–seeing how a writer develops over time.

The foundation:  Saving Agnes, published in 1993.  It won the Whitbread First Novel Award (now the Costa First Novel Award).  I started it the first week of September.  It’s kind of chick-litty in subject matter, but after all the author would have been 26 when it was published.  It also seems to take the author too many words to say what she has to say. 

Nevertheless it’s a great beginning for a writer, and it contains some engaging images, like “a row of teenagers sat on a bench like crows on a telegraph wire,” and  “Days when she was expecting a call stretched out before her like empty motorways….” 

It also contains some interesting lines like “She’d never known loneliness until she’d had company.”  And this combination of an intriguing idea and an image to match:  “She had changed, she knew, but she didn’t quite know how or when.  Like an old car, the addition of new parts over the years had left little of her original material, but her form remained unaltered.  Could she, she wondered, still be said to be the same person?”

More tomorrow on the framing…