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Arlington Park: A Novelby Rachel Cusk
"[A] sort of Desperate Housewives for the thinking reader....Relief from this bleak view comes from the very vigor of Cusk's characters. Each has made a home in this homogenous place, but for a markedly different reason; each is plagued by her own distinct worries; each finds consolation in her own way. They are, in other words, strikingly real people. And then there is Cusk's writing — so diamond sharp and so lushly metaphorical that even had this substantial book no substance, one would read it happily." Christina Schwarz, The Atlantic Monthly (read the entire Atlantic Monthly review)
Synopses & Reviews
Arlington Park, a modern-day English suburb very much like its American counterparts, is a place devoted to the profitable ordinariness of life. Amidst its leafy avenues and comfortable houses, its residents live out the dubious accomplishments of civilization: material prosperity, personal freedom, and moral indifference. In Arlington Park, men work, women look after children, and people generally do what's expected of them. It's a world awash in contentment but empty of belief, and riven with strange anxieties. How are they to know right from wrong? How should they use their knowledge of other people's sufferings? What is the relationship of politics to their own domestic arrangements?
Set over the course of a single rainy day, the novel moves from one household to another, and through the passing hours conducts a deep examination of its characters' lives: of Juliet, enraged at the victory of men over women in family life; of Amanda, warding off thoughts of death with obsessive housework; of Solly, who confronts her own buried femininity in the person of her Italian lodger; of Maisie, despairing at the inevitability with which beauty is destroyed; and of Christine, whose troubled, hilarious spirit presides over Arlington Park and the way of life it represents.
Darkly comic, deeply affecting, and wise, Arlington Park is a page-turning imagining of the extraordinary inner nature of ordinary life, by one of Britain's most exciting young novelists.
"In this devastating ensemble novel, Whitbread Award-winner Cusk (Saving Agnes) exposes the roiling inner lives and not-so-quiet desperation of young mothers in the well-to-do London suburb Arlington Park. The book's single day begins with an epic rainstorm that wakes part-time private-school English teacher Juliet Randall, who spent the previous evening at a wealthier neighbor's home and was told, in front of husband Benedict, 'You want to be careful.... You can start to sound strident at your age.' As Amanda Clapp strains to maintain her house's empty perfection, a multi-kid play date gets out of control. Maisie Carrington feels 'imprisoned for life' by her frosty, upper-crust childhood, and can barely contain her violent feelings toward her own daughters. Christine Lanham, a newcomer to the class distinction her marriage has brought her, abhors the hypocrisy that surrounds her, but knows she will never leave her family. The story line coils around each woman's home until it gathers the group for a drunken dinner party, where husbands express pleasure with their privilege while fretting that something feels amiss, and children, exhausted by their mothers' alternating neglect and desperate love, sleep like the dead — leaving the women holding hot coals of their silent insights. Their plight is an old story, but Cusk makes it incisively vivid." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"When Cusk is at her best — and she often is in this book — she writes scenes that are both funny and furious....The strength of Arlington Park is that while depicting the sadness of these very human and likable mothers, Cusk doesn't patronize or pity them." Vendela Vida, The San Francisco Chronicle
"[The characters are] not always good company — this reviewer threw the book down halfway through, swearing to get out of town — but in her luminous if disturbing study Cusk has done important work in giving them voice. Highly recommended." Library Journal
"Arlington Park is a remarkable, though quiet, work. Cusk illuminates ordinary lives, presumably the kind of lives that most of us lead." Denver Post
"Such is the author's skill that few readers will be able to escape a sense of squirming empathy for these women's frequent bouts of self-pity....The sour aftertaste their stories leave, however, is a new development in Cusk's work — and not a welcome one. Accomplished, honest and uncompromising, but not a whole lot of fun." Kirkus Reviews
"What makes the book brilliant is Cusk's fearlessness about her subject matter....Cusk treats the women's day as a high literary subject that deserves great writing and acute observation. She addresses the problem of time with energy and wit." Newsday
"Cusk's glory is her style, cold and hard and devastatingly specific, empathetic but not sympathetic....She seems to be saying that Arlington Park may be comfortable, maddening, deracinating, alienating nothingness, but it is the only choice." Jane Smiley, Los Angeles Times
"With so many women slogging through the same malevolent marsh, a reader's receptivity is dulled. Yet just when you're ready to moan Enough, Cusk pulls you back with a perfect description..." Cleveland Plain Dealer
Set over the course of one rainy day in a London suburb, Arlington Park is a viciously funny portrait of a group of young mothers, each bound to their families, each straining for some kind of independence. As the hours pass, Rachel Cusk's graceful, incisive prose passes through the experience of each mother, following them all from the early-morning scrambling, through car trips and visits to the mall, and finally to a dinner party in the evening, when the husbands return and all the conflicts come to the surface. Penetrating and empathetic, Arlington Park is "a domestic adventure about the perils of modern privilege that is as smartly satirical as it is warmly wise" (Elle).
About the Author
Rachel Cusk is the Whitbread Award-winning author of Saving Agnes, The Temporary, The Country Life, The Lucky Ones, and In the Fold, and of the memoir A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother. She lives in Bristol, England.
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