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
"[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
Amid the leafy avenues and comfortable houses of the English suburbs, the residents of Arlington Park live out the dubious accomplishments of their ordinary lives in a world rife with contentment and anxiety but empty of belief, in a novel that follows a single rainy day in the lives of the various inhabitants of the neighborhood. By the author of Saving Agnes. 50,000 first printing.
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.
Reading Group Guide
1. What is the effect of the stormy weather that permeates the novel? How does the author use tangible details to convey intangible aspects of her characters lives?
2. What is the source of Juliets rage? To what extent are her feelings toward her husband, her children and her job common among women in her situation? Has the sense of possibility truly been extinguished in her, as she fears?
3. Amandas car gives her a sense of control and escape, while Eddie continually makes her feel trapped. Where do the impressions and the reality of her life intersect? How does her current level of freedom compare to that of her previous life in business? Is her perfectionism an adequate tonic?
4. How is Christines perception of the journey to the mall different from that of her friends? What does she realize about herself during this trip through the lesser suburbs, where saleswomen hawk thinness and the dressing rooms provide a common denominator?
5. Is Liz Connelly out of touch, or is she the most aware woman in her neighborhood? What does her religious awakening mean to her? Does it cause her to be a better or worse mother to Owen?
6. What were Maisies expectations upon leaving London? What does her reaction to the parking-lot incident with Jasper say about her, and about her neighbors?
7. Why was it important for Solly to know that Paola had been married and was a mother? Why was Paolo able to take bigger risks than the women of Arlington Park seem to have taken? Would you have preferred to have Betty, Katzmi, or Paolo in your home?
8. What was your reaction to the scene when the rain stopped and you were able to eavesdrop as the children and their mothers enjoyed the park? Was there a theme to their chatter?
9. How do your book clubs discussions compare with those of Juliets Literary Club? Why does she identify with the Brontë sisters to such a high degree?
10. What does the story of Juliets hair (from the memories of her mother to the nightmares she has as an adult) indicate about her changing attitudes toward her life?
11. Discuss the genre of twenty-first-century motherhood in general, as it appears on television dramas as well as in books. What dilemmas are presented to contemporary mothers? When Christine and her mother talk on the phone, what distinctions become apparent about the roles of wife and mother between two generations? Which generation of women has less anxiety?
12. What is the effect of reading a novel in stories, with Juliets haircutting narrative separated by other scenes? What innovations does the author apply to point of view and time lines? How does she balance humor and reverence?
13. How does each couple in Arlington Park manage the question of economics? How does money factor into their sense of status, and how does it affect power within the relationships? Which couples seem to be the best matches? Do the best-suited couples realize how compatible they are?
14. Which of the characters resonates with your experience? Is this circle of neighbors typical of those found in suburban America?
15. Describing Dom and Maisies house on Roderick Road, the author writes, "The kitchen was like a person with whom she had tried to get on and failed." How do the characters homes, or even specific rooms, mirror their identities? How do Cusks descriptions of the various settings enhance her development of the characters?
16. What gender distinctions become apparent during the dinner party in the closing chapter? Knowing as much as you do about the guests private thoughts, do you believe they interact in an authentic way? Are their greatest fears eased or stoked by an evening together?
17. What common threads run through Rachel Cusks fiction and her memoir? What would the characters in her previous novels have thought of the residents of Arlington Park?