21 March 2007

Review – Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk

This book shares the same loose premise as Quaker Summer, namely that of the typical suburban housewife and mother disenchanted with life. However, while Samson’s character retains loving relationships with her husband and son and authenticity with friends, Cusk’s women are estranged from their families and friends because of hypocrisy, deprivation, and selfishness. This set of women feel entrapped by their husbands, kids, and their own desires to keep up appearances.
The book opens with a rain storm. This rain does not nourish but oppresses, and its tyrannical drops reach every aspect of life in Arlington Park. Funny, I just began Bleak House yesterday, and Rachel Cusk’s opening reminds me of that.
Set across the spread of one day, Cusk portrays five women, Juliet, who considers her husband a murderer because of her stripped dreams, Amanda, who obsessively tries to maintain an order and cleanliness that pushes away any relationships and she hopes will push away the mess of death, Maisie, who fears that a move to the suburbs from London will squelch compassion, beauty, and passion, taking her back her an unloving childhood, Solly, who’s pregnancy has stolen her femininity, and Christine, who vacillates between being proud of achieving the ranking of the posh Arlington status (much removed from her childhood of fish and chips) but detests the hypocrisy of it all. All the women resent their husbands for the lives the men lead and the lives the men have forced the women to lead, and they fluctuate between a clinging love of their children and begrudging them for sucking out their lives. In the end, the author’s answer seems to be acceptance. Choose to enjoy life. Maybe it was supposed to be one of those ironical endings, these women trapped have no other choice sort of thing, but I preferred Samson’s ending of transcendence through becoming more human. Cusk embodied my worst fear. Not about the husbands – my husband is too loving for any of that nonsense – but the whole suburban thing and even some of my fears about having kids, so this novel was powerful for me.

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